“We have a wonderful story to tell,” club president Chris Canetti told fans this week at Dash media day. Chapter two of that tale begins on Friday night at BBVA Compass Stadium when a revamped side hosts the Washington Spirit in the first NWSL game of the season (7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS).
On the field the club made major moves to improve the roster for its second year of existence, signing U.S. all-time great Carli Lloyd, starlet Morgan Brian and FIFA Puskas award runner-up Stephanie Roche, among others. Off it the Dash’s mission since the club’s inception has been to spread the word, grow the sport and provide positive female role models.
It’s about more than just winning matches, though that’s vitally important. It’s about the excitement and passion that the Dash players can inspire in girls like Skyler and Carter, two young soccer fans who attended the media day on Wednesday. About the enthusiasm a player such as Brittany Bock can generate on a school visit, the connections she can make.
“I think we have a responsibility to help grow the game of soccer and certainly that requires growth on the women’s side as well and the Dash provide the best opportunity for us to do that,” said Canetti, who is also Dynamo president.
“I think it’s important for us to provide the opportunity to these girls and to have these role models for young women or girls, whether they play soccer or not, to have female role models for them to look up to. Whether you’re a father, brother or husband, you have a girl or woman in your life and the Dash can play a vital role in providing that aspirational outlook for them. These girls are great ambassadors for the game, they’re wonderful in the community,” he said.
Managing director Brian Ching, who was an iconic player himself, is excited about the acquisition of Lloyd, the U.S. record goalscorer from midfield, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and set to be an integral part of the national team in this summer’s World Cup.
“I think it’s huge, because we’re going after the best players in the world and Carli’s one of the best players in the world hands down I think. And it’s a start. Obviously we’d love to have three or four of those players in the team and that’s the goal long term, to build the team, build the brand and be known as one of the best places to play,” he said.
“We had to give up really two critical pieces of the team to get her in Whitney Engen and Becky Edwards,” said Canetti. “We saw them as part of our group going forward, but when there was the opportunity to get Carli we felt like it was not an opportunity we could pass on. I look at it from my perspective, as you’re building an organization we have a guy like Brian in his role who’s a big part of this whole thing, [head coach Randy Waldrum] in his role, and then we said, what is the player we can include in this mix between myself, Brian and Randy?
“Is there a player that we can bring in that sees the vision, helps the vision and can help grow this thing to the next level? We looked at Carli and what she does on the field and what she brings off the field and felt like that was a can’t-miss opportunity.”
Put together in just three frantic months, the Dash finished in ninth place last season, far adrift of a playoff place, but most matches were closer than the standings might suggest. For this second chapter, disrupted though it will be by the World Cup, the roster looks deeper and stronger, especially going forward. The postseason — reached by Friday’s opponents, who finished fourth in 2014 — is the target. “We learnt a lot of things after the first season,” said Ching.
“Ninety days was a pretty tough time to throw a team together. We’ve made some trades over the last season and in this offseason, we really went aggressively to improve the team. Like Randy’s said we’re not there yet but our goal is to continue to improve the team every year and I think we’ve made a significant difference with our personnel this year as opposed to last year. Last year we had a lot of rookies, this year maybe one true rookie on the team.”
Given the high standard of the NWSL, the size of Houston, the Dash’s outstanding facilities and the ambition of their staff, Waldrum still carries the lofty but realistic goal he set when first brought in as head coach: “I want this club to be one of the top clubs in the world,” he said.
Among Canetti’s targets for 2015 are boosting attendances and continuing the process of embedding the club in the community for the benefit of current and future generations of Houstonians. “We need everybody to come support this thing and make sure the Houston Dash are here forever for Skyler and Carter,” he said.
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.