When a familiar face offered her the chance of a fresh start, Melissa Henderson jumped at the opportunity.
The Dash’s latest signing has an outside shot to be involved in Friday night’s vital home game against the Boston Breakers (8 p.m. CT; TICKETS) even though she is yet to take part in a training session in Houston. Henderson may have brand-new teammates but she has plenty of history with Dash head coach Randy Waldrum.
The forward played under Waldrum at the University of Notre Dame, winning an NCAA championship in 2010. That year she scored 17 times, provided 11 assists and won the Honda Sports Award as the country’s best collegiate women’s soccer player—an accolade also claimed in recent years by fellow Dash teammates Teresa Noyola and Whitney Engen.
Not only that, but the 24-year-old is a native Texan from the Dallas area, just like Waldrum. “He has been such an inspiration in my whole career, he helped me so much. It’s just nice to play for him again and represent the Dash and know that you’re playing for a coach that has confidence in you I think helps so much,” Henderson told HoustonDashSoccer.com on Thursday as she headed south to Houston.
“I am beyond ecstatic about joining the Dash. Just being back in my home state already feels incredible and to be able to know I’m going to a team with great players and people and to be playing for Randy again is absolutely amazing and I’m very fortunate and grateful to have this opportunity…. At Notre Dame I loved the style of play that he produced.”
Henderson was acquired from FC Kansas City in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2015 NWSL College Draft. Midfielder Lindsay Elston, who made one start this year, was waived to make room on the 20-player roster. Henderson scored against eventual champions Portland Thorns FC in last season’s playoffs but found first-team opportunities limited in Kansas. However, she has played twice at BBVA Compass Stadium in 2014, starting in the Dash’s loss to Kansas City last month and coming on as a late substitute when the sides met in May.
“I don’t know if we’ll play her on Friday since she won’t have much time with the team, but she’ll be available to play if we need her to on Friday,” Waldrum told HoustonDashSoccer.com.
“I’m very excited about her. She’s had a hard time finding her place at Kansas City the last two years because they just play with the one forward… Hopefully she’ll be highly motivated since she didn’t get a lot of time there, to come in and make a difference. She knows our system, she knows how I like to play, so it shouldn’t take her much time at all to fit in.
“It gives us one more attacking option. She’s a player that’s a little bit more experienced, a little better at holding the ball up at times. She brings some intangibles, she’s got good pace and when she’s on form she can score goals.”
Waldrum hopes that Henderson’s arrival will help spark the team back into life after three successive NWSL defeats left the Dash ten points off the postseason pace, making a win imperative on Friday night when the league’s bottom club visit BBVA Compass Stadium.
“All of our games coming up, these last nine games, become really important for us to be getting as much out of them as we can,” said Waldrum. After Friday, the Dash are home again on July 17 against the Washington Spirit, the team currently occupying the fourth and final playoffs place.
Whether she makes her Houston debut then or on Friday, Henderson is certainly sure to infuse the team with her infectious enthusiasm. “I’m just really looking forward to the experience and the opportunity,” she said. “I’m hungry to play and just very excited.”
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.