The exhibitions are over. In a week, the games count as the Houston Dash begin their third season in the NWSL seeking a first-ever playoff appearance.
The Dash closed their preseason slate with a 5-0 win over the Texas A&M Aggies at Ellis Field in College Station, with most projected starters getting at least sixty minutes of game action before facing the Chicago Red Stars at BBVA Compass Stadium. Houston finished the preseason with a 4-1-0 record, with the lone loss coming against Seattle Reign FC in Portland.
A full schedule of training and friendlies, travel and bonding were crucial for a Dash side only returning 10 players from 2015 (including Cami Privett, who spent half of the year as an amateur player before earning a contract in Norway). All five goals scored against Texas A&M were by new additions to the team: two each for Rachel Daly and Chioma Ubogagu, and one for Amber Brooks.
“The month was great for us because we got to put all the young players, the draft choices, and the new acquisitions together—and we knew it was going to take some time, so the preseason has been good with that,” head coach Randy Waldrum said following Friday night’s match. “We started to get players a little bit more and more playing time each game, and are starting to see how the units work together: our back four, our midfield three, what combination up front works best with each other.”
Though Waldrum and managing director Brian Ching knew what they were getting when making their offseason moves, having the fresh faces in camp and getting game time further impressed the technical staff as they go into the new season.
“The draft choices we knew about, but I would have to say between Rachel [Daly] and Janine [Beckie], they’ve even exceeded what I was expecting—which is always a plus,” Waldrum said. “Certainly the acquisition of Amber Brooks changes the way we’re able to play; we couldn’t play that way because we didn’t have a good defensive midfield player, a true holding player.”
With the players that have been in camp all month gelling together nicely, the only obstacle left for Waldrum is re-integrating national team players Morgan Brian, Carli Lloyd, Allysha Chapman, and Beckie back into the fold as they return from international play.
“Depending on how many days we actually have them to train, that will dictate a little bit on how much they play, what our lineup looks like on Saturday,” Waldrum said. “For the group that’s been here, I’ve been really pleased with how it’s come along. It was a good way to finish off a great preseason.”