Wilf Thorne/Houston Dash

Houston Dash are wary of giving up a late goal once again to Washington Spirit: "We're definitely keeping that in mind"

Fueled by the memory of an agonizing defeat, the Dash begin a crucial stretch of three games in a week at home to the Washington Spirit on Saturday night at BBVA Compass Stadium (8 p.m. CT; TICKETS).

Houston twice equalized against Washington when the sides met in Maryland on May 26, yet fell 3-2 thanks to a spectacular stoppage-time winner from Christine Nairn. It was a cruel blow but the Dash channeled that pain into some positive momentum and won their next three games—only to lose 2-1 to FC Kansas City on a last-minute header in their most recent NWSL match two weeks ago.

Dash forward Kealia Ohai says the team is determined to learn from its mistakes and cut out the late mental errors that are costing valuable points. “We fought really hard [against the Spirit] and to lose like that at the end was really tough for us,” she told HoustonDashSoccer.com. 

“That’s been a theme since then, for our whole season: at the end of the game finding a better way to close it out whether we’re winning or it’s tied. It’s actually happened to us twice now. So we’re definitely keeping that in mind as we go into the game.

“It’s different factors each time. The Kansas City game we had played three games in one week so at some point you’re just exhausted. But with the Washington one it’s a bit of bad luck, but it’s also just dropping in [to defense] to withstand the pressure, or maybe clearing the ball out.”

With thirteen games in the books in the Dash’s inaugural season, the team has eleven regular-season fixtures left. After Washington visit on Saturday the side travels to face Sky Blue FC on July 2 then hosts the Western New York Flash three days later. Head coach Randy Waldrum knows that with so many points up for grabs in such a short space of time, the coming days could be vital as the Dash bid to make up ground on the teams above them.

“It’s a big game, all of them are. Now we’re at that point where we’ve got to start raking up some points here and fortunately the way the league’s fallen in the first half is that outside of Seattle and Kansas City everybody else is pretty close,” he told HoustonDashSoccer.com.

“The bottom line now is we’ve got to do our part. Everybody else is beating each other but we’ve got to secure some points and this is going to be another one of those big weeks, it’s going to be another difficult week with these three games in seven days but it’s going to be a really big, important week.”

The mid-table Spirit are six points ahead of the Dash but have played one match more. They arrive in Texas on a three-game losing streak and smarting from a 6-1 home defeat to Portland Thorns FC last Saturday.

Waldrum has the rare luxury of being able to select from a nearly-full roster, with only Teresa Noyola and Meghan Klingenberg likely to be absent through injury on Saturday. The Dash have scored 13 goals in their past seven NWSL fixtures and much of the credit for the team’s revitalized attack goes to the wide attacking duo of Tiffany McCarty and Ohai, who have menaced defenses in recent weeks with what Waldrum termed their “blazing pace”.

Ohai, the second overall selection in the 2014 NWSL College Draft, now firmly looks like she belongs at the professional level after a tough start in which she suffered an ankle injury against Portland in the season opener.

“Once she gained some confidence that she could do it, she’s been a different player. She did have a high ankle sprain at the beginning of the season, but really for her it was believing in herself that she was capable of doing it,” said Waldrum. “She’s always had the same qualities, I think it was just being able to get it done, and for young players coming out of college it does take a little time to adapt to the pace of the pro game and also to the physical nature of the game.”

The 22-year-old former University of North Carolina standout said that she is now fit, full of self-belief and finding some rhythm. “With my ankle at the beginning it was tough to miss those games and then come back into a league that I’d never really played in before and for me it’s all about confidence, so as soon as I got my confidence back I started to figure it out. And I also think our team is getting better and something’s clicking with us up top, so that’s helping a lot,” she said.

“At the beginning when we were losing a lot of games and nothing was really clicking we had to try to figure out a combination of something that’s going to work. Once we found that, everyone’s starting to settle. And then when people are coming in off the bench they’re bringing a whole other aspect to it, so I think the team is starting to click.

“At the beginning… I think when we lost a lot of those games we were kind of discouraged but now when you look at the points differential it’s really not that crazy that we could make the playoffs. Every game counts and everyone is so close besides the top two teams.”

Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com and HoustonDashSoccer.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.