The Dash host FC Kansas City on Saturday with one player nearing the end of her long road back from injury as another embarks on the same arduous journey.
First, the good news: defender Lauren Sesselmann is in contention to feature in the NWSL clash at BBVA Compass Stadium (7:30 p.m. CT; TICKETS) after recovering from the anterior cruciate ligament tear she suffered on international duty with Canada last spring.
It’s Sesselmann’s last match in Houston before she and Dash teammates Erin McLeod and Allysha Chapman join up with Canada’s World Cup squad next week in preparation for the tournament, which kicks off with the host nation’s group match against China in Edmonton on June 6.
Being named to the roster is the perfect reward for the veteran’s determination to return from the serious injury. “It feels amazing. It was my goal and I’m glad that I’ve got my goal. I’ve been out for a year and it’s not a fun process, you don’t really know what’s going to happen. Coming back into the program you don’t know what’s going to happen because everyone’s playing really well. I got my chance — the coach gave me a chance to play against France, I think it really helped me and I just feel confident and happy and excited,” she told HoustonDashSoccer.com.
“It’s becoming more and more real every day — just getting that final push to become an even better player than I was before I got injured is my goal, so I have these six weeks to fine-tune a lot of things.
“The atmosphere is insane there. I’ve been training up in Vancouver and just seeing all the people who came out for our media day was pretty awesome. You just feel the love everywhere you go. Everyone’s like ‘oh my gosh, yay, we’re going to be rooting for you and we’re so excited for the summer’.”
Sesselmann’s joy was tempered by the news that versatile defender Stephanie Ochs suffered a serious knee injury in last Sunday’s 3-2 defeat to the Boston Breakers. She’s ready to help Ochs through the challenges of rehabilitation in any way she can.
“I was watching that game back in Vancouver and my heart just dropped, I kind of had a sense from the way that she was holding her knee and looking,” Sesselmann said. “So the biggest thing is just being there for her and just helping her through this process because it’s scary, everything just stops for you, and you don’t really know what’s going to happen. So I think just being a shoulder for her just through this whole process is going to be very helpful for her … She’s a very strong individual so she’s going to be fine.”
Dash coach Randy Waldrum lamented Ochs’ and the team’s bad luck. Midfielder Brittany Bock also suffered a serious knee injury in last year’s NWSL opener that saw her miss the rest of the season. He described Ochs’ injury as “kind of a freak thing” as she tried to block a cross early in the first half.
“It’s a huge blow. She’s such a good player and one of the keys for us because we can play her anywhere and she can do a job for us. I just feel awful for her and it’s really causing us a major reshuffling now because we’d already been scrambling in the back as it is. We’ve just got to have that ‘next man up’ attitude to see who can step in,” he said.
After seeing the Dash’s performances in the opening month of the season, Sesselmann is optimistic the team will have a strong year. “They’ve looked great. It seems like the chemistry is there, they seem more confident. Last season was a bummer for us, it wasn’t the greatest season, but we have so much talent on this team and to see all the pieces kind of fall into place is kind of awesome to see. And with the addition of a lot of great players and new faces that we have, we definitely have a strong side and we’re going to have a great summer,” she said.
Houston started the campaign with an impressive 2-0 home win over the Washington Spirit and followed that up with a creditable 1-1 tie against Sky Blue FC on the road, but Waldrum was underwhelmed by the Boston display and is looking for a better showing at BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday.
The Dash fought back from a two-goal deficit with a double from Jessica McDonald before a 72nd-minute own goal handed the Breakers all three points. “I wasn’t pleased with the Boston performance. The first two I was pretty happy with,” Waldrum said. “Having said that we probably could have still won the game 7-3 with the kind of chances we had.”
Saturday’s match is the first of a two-game homestand. After a bye week the Chicago Red Stars visit BBVA Compass Stadium on May 15. “We’re home and so we’re resting this week in our own beds, not traveling and we don’t have an excuse not to come out full of energy and ready to play,” said Waldrum.
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.