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2016 NWSL Preview: Houston Dash

The Houston Dash have huge hopes for draft pick and Canadian international Janine Beckie. (Photo Courtesy Canada Soccer)

The Houston Dash have huge hopes for draft pick and Canadian international Janine Beckie. (Photo Courtesy Canada Soccer)

Our second week of NWSL previews starts with the Houston Dash as they attempt to reach the playoffs for the first time.

Last season (6-8-6, 5th place; missed playoffs): The Dash made marked improvements off of their hastily put together expansion season but still fell short of an appearance in the playoffs. The club climbed halfway up the ladder from its last-place finish in 2014.

With more improvements over the recent offseason, a playoff berth in year three is the clear goal in Houston.

{MORE: See all 2016 NWSL Previews}

Key Changes: Dash fans will be lamenting the departure of the popular duo Erin McLeod and Ella Masar who signed in Sweden. The team also decided to move Meghan Klingenberg instead of leaving her exposed in the expansion draft. The Dash made up for the losses by making upgrades on every line. To replace McLeod the club inked Australian keeper Lydia Williams who spent time with the Flash two years ago. On defense Randy Waldrum brought in Poliana and midway through camp the club traded for Rebecca Moros. Stephanie Ochs is not new in the team but is back after tearing her ACL three games into last season.

The key addition in midfield is Amber Brooks who became the return in the Klingenberg trade.

“I think Amber Brooks was clearly a piece we missed,” Dash coach Randy Waldrum said in reference to last year’s team. “Having a really good, skillful defensive central midfield player that can not only destroy play from the opposition but can also build up play. That’s a big addition for us.”

The most plentiful additions though were up top. Chioma Ubogagu signed after having her rights acquired by Sky Blue and the Dash used two of their three first round picks on a pair of strikers with international experience—Rachel Daly and Janine Beckie. Denise O’Sullivan finally got her paperwork cleared but then went in with Ireland. She is expected to finally join the Dash this week.

Another first round pick, Cari Roccaro, is ahead of schedule in her recovery from hip surgery and could be game ready in the next month.

Strengths: Waldrum had three first round picks in the draft but no others. That made him the first coach to address the media that day and he beamed as he contemplated how his new additions offered him flexibility he has not had in two seasons in Houston.

“In years past we’ve had strong, athletic players. If we could get the ball into the box and get some service delivered we would have a decent chance,” he said. “But our buildup play, we weren’t technical enough that we could play off of our front line and still keep it to get into that final third. Beckie and Daly have been great for us in the final third in that regard.”

{USWNT Distractions: Curren | Lauletta}

The myriad attacking additions will also allow for more variation to Waldrum’s preferred 4-3-3 though the longtime Notre Dame coach cautions about getting too caught up in labeling formations.

“Our shape will still depend a little bit week to week, but we have a general idea of how we want to look. I don’t think it’s any secret to anybody that we want to play out of some variation of a 4-3-3. I think people get tied up too much on formations. It’s more about personnel. We’ve got the players who can do that.”

In years past Waldrum had his hand forced to play either tired players straight off the plane from national team commitments or players who hardly had the experience necessary to

“I think now we’re in pretty good shape,” Waldrum said. “We feel like we have two good goalkeepers and we have some pretty good depth at outside back. In midfield we have a lot of talented midfielders to select from, and up front we kind of feel the same.”

Areas of Development: Waldrum was blunt about the fact that his biggest concerns revolve around the center of his defense where finding a suitable replacement for Whitney Engen has proven difficult the last two years.

“We don’t have that huge center back. Honestly when I look around the league I don’t see that many of them anyway. We tried like crazy to find that answer in the offseason. As opposed to finding signing something that we thought was a short-term fix, we just stuck with what we built around those players. Since we couldn’t find an answer to solve that particular spot through a trade or through an international spot that would be the one area that I would say is a little bit of something that I’m concerned with.”

That said the Dash were recently in Portland for the preseason tournament and got to test the waters against fellow NWSL sides the Thorns and Reign. And Waldrum liked what he saw against a nearly full-strength Reign club.

“We did quite well against Seattle. Portland was obviously missing a lot of players but we did well with what we had in the back in those games. I was encouraged with the trip. Seattle’s the one team that can really cause you problems with the midfield that they have. I think we’ll be okay. It’s going to take some time.”

Point of Interest: The Dash are hoping Kealia Ohai, the club’s first ever draft pick, can refine her play around goal and turn herself from a dangerous player into one that can be counted on to provide goals.

“She gets herself into great scoring positions. The next big step that’s going to help her be successful not only for the Dash but maybe in the future to have a look for the full team is she’s going tot have to start finishing some of those opportunities. Because she creates a lot.

Some of the new personnel should help. Jess McDonald (now in Western New York) was mostly a target player that used her size to create space and finish. Melissa Henderson, by the coach’s admission, has struggled enough to score at the pro level that defenses tended to put more resources on Ohai.

“We haven’t really had a forward that teams had to worry about other than Kealia,” Waldrum said. “We would see, especially midway through the year, because of her pace, two and three players around her because everything else wasn’t a threat. It’s going to be a very interesting year for her because she’ll have more players around her that teams are going to have to worry about as well. They’re so much better with the ball. I think she’s going to get the ball in much better positions.”


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