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Selection of Morgan Brian continues impressive offseason for Houston Dash

Morgan Brian’s day began with a torrent of text messages congratulating her on some big news: she'd just become a member of the Houston Dash.

The U.S. starlet is with the national team at a training camp in California. When the news broke from Philadelphia on Friday morning that she was the first overall pick in the 2015 NWSL College Draft, the messages poured in, and in — 82 of them, she said.

Being named top pick in the nation was a surreal moment that hasn’t yet sunk in. “I don’t think it has hit me yet, I’m not sure it ever will hit me… everything that does come to mind is just what you’ve done in the past to get to where you have been, and also you think of all the things you still have to work on and continue to make yourself a better soccer player,” she said on a conference call with reporters.

Not that there was any great shock that the Dash selected the 21-year-old midfielder from the University of Virginia. She was the consensus best available player by some distance.

Even before kicking a single ball as a professional, Brian has amassed plenty of national team experience. An ESPN article last October called her “America’s next big soccer star.” And now she’ll suit up for the Dash as they kick off their second NWSL season at BBVA Compass Stadium on April 10 with a roster that’s shaping up nicely.

“It was really a no-brainer, and she’s a great kid… She has a really great family and I know she’s really excited about being in Houston,” Dash head coach Randy Waldrum told HoustonDashSoccer.com.

“When you have a player of Morgan’s talent you can’t pass on her. She’ll certainly help us with creativity in midfield. Along with Carli Lloyd, Rosana from Brazil, in addition to having Brittany Bock back, it’s going to be a pretty stacked midfield for us.

“She’s going to be a big difference-maker. I think she’ll help us with her goalscoring, because she can do that, but I think the players we have up front, she’ll get better service to them as well, so we’re really excited about that choice for sure.”

The signing means that one of the all-time USWNT greats will combine in the Dash midfield with a fast-rising prodigy. Lloyd was the Americans’ top scorer in 2014 with 15 goals in 23 starts, and the veteran was named MVP of the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament.

A cultured and mature player with an eye for an incisive pass, Brian has 19 international caps and three goals overall. In 2014 she played 934 minutes, logging 16 games (11 starts) and producing two goals and four assists. All while still at college. Hailing from tiny St. Simons Island on the Georgia coast, midway between Savannah and Jacksonville, Brian is the all-time assists leader at UVA and was just named MAC Hermann Trophy winner, collecting college soccer’s most prestigious individual honor for the second time in a row.

She is eager to get to Houston and turn full-time. “It’s definitely a transition I’m looking forward to. Being a student-athlete you have to focus 100% on your studies and playing soccer to the best of your ability,” she said. “Now that I can focus on just playing soccer and not having to study and devote time to that every day it’s just going to help me in the long run.”

As well as helping the Dash to league success, her goal, of course, is to represent the U.S. at this summer’s World Cup in Canada. “I think it would be a dream come true to represent in the US in the World Cup, everyone dreams of that growing up and being a soccer player,” she said. “For me it's just focusing every single day for the next six months and hopefully if I do make the team it'd be an honor. Everyone wants to represent their country and have the crest on their chest.”

Playing with Lloyd every day, not just on international duty, is bound to aid that ambition. “She’s helped me a lot. I’ve been with this team for a year and a half now so there’s been some ups and downs. I do remember one clear time when I went through a rough patch and she helped me with it, she led the way for me and let me know it was OK and helped my confidence in that way and she’s been a great mentor for me. And she’s a great player. Playing alongside her in the midfield she’s made me a better player too,” said Brian.

It’s the latest major offseason move for the Dash, who’ve built on the high-profile signing of Lloyd by adding midfielders Rachael Axon, Rosana and Ashley Nick and defenders Niki Cross and Poliana. Up front, the Dash made a draft day move to acquire former Portland Thorns FC forward Jessica McDonald, who tied for third in the NWSL in 2014 with 11 goals scored.

Bock and Lauren Sesselmann are poised to return after major injuries, while versatile Canadian international Allysha Chapman was acquired on January 14. “That was a big coup for us because we need help in the back and she’s a left back and she can also play up front — she played up front in Sweden and played defensive central midfield for LSU. She’s a kid that can play outside back on either side,” Waldrum said.

Friday’s draft also saw the acquisition of another defender, Carleigh Williams. The University of Central Florida standout was chosen with the fourth pick of the fourth round. “She was defensive player of the year in her conference with Central Florida, we addressed some needs that we have in the back with her," Waldrum said.

He’s confident the full-strength Dash will be a force. “When we have all [our international] players back from the World Cup I think we’re going to have a really good side,” he said.

And in Lloyd and Brian, the Dash have two inspirational talents with the power to make a big difference on and off the field. “Both of us are trying to be great role models for the community, and for little girls and anyone who plays soccer who’s young and comes to games,” Brian said. “Hopefully in Houston we can play good soccer and attract more fans.”

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.

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