The first person to apply for the Houston Dash head coaching vacancy in September wound up with the job. The application of Houston Dynamo academy director James Clarkson took managing director Brian Ching by surprise, but he soon came to realize that the England native was the best person for the job.
“When you listen to James, you can really get that passion. You get that feel that he really understands the game,” Ching said while introducing Clarkson as the Dash’s third full-time head coach on Tuesday. “He’s lived the game, breathed the game, from his beginnings. A lot of that came through with every conversation.”
Clarkson said he was surprised when Vera Pauw resigned after a season that saw the Dash set records for wins and points and improve exponentially from the start of the season to the end. He is eager to build on what Pauw began building in her lone season in Houston and also to work with some of the best players on the planet.
“The soccer side of things I don’t see any difference at all,” Clarkson said when asked about the draw to the women’s game. “Off the field on the personal side of things, I think it’s important for me to establish relationships with all of them as individuals. My job is about managing people. Through my experiences in the academy and front office, I think I can lean on those experiences to get the most out of every single individual.”
Ching, who was fresh off the playing field when the Dash named him managing director nearly five years ago to the day, said that he now sees how prior Dash coaches lacked the personal connection with the players.
“One thing we want(ed) to do is get a coach that could find that connection with the players,” Ching said. “I think that’s something that we’ve lacked in the past. We’ve had great coaches that have had great soccer minds but I think that connection with the players wasn’t quite where it needed to be. The more I talked to James the more I saw it was about creating that connection and trying to help the players get where they want to go.
“Over the years I have seen that part of the game maybe a little bit different where women respond a little bit better when they feel a personal connection and when they feel like you’re in their corner and backing them. I really feel like James is on the path to making that connection.”
The introductory press conference happened 30 days before the NWSL Draft. The last time the Dash went to the draft with a new coach, Pauw wound up trading out of the No. 3 pick that turned out to be a subsidized player (Rebecca Quinn) and then pulled the trigger on the mega trade for Christen Press that left the club in limbo for months when she refused to report. This year the Dash are absent a 1st round pick but they do hold four picks in the 2nd round which can be a vital area for building a team.
“It’s pretty much taking up all my time,” Clarkson said when asked about the draft. He has been watching film on many prospects and has also been in touch with players and coaches in hopes of adding high character players to the Dash club.
Clarkson, who did not mention any players by name, said he is looking to build on what the Dash did in 2018 with a little better success at keeping the ball out of the back of their own goal.
“They were very good going forward. We’ve got some really good attacking players and some good speed and some very good technical ability. We scored a variety of different goals last year. Maintain that type of play while trying to avoid conceding as many goals. Getting stingier at the back is vitally important.”
But as all coaches do, Clarkson beat the drums for attacking soccer that will be easy on the eyes of a fan base that has sent fewer and fewer fans through the BBVA Compass Stadium turnstiles the last two seasons.
“My philosophy has always been—I want to attack. I think this is entertainment, so we want to put a product on the field that is going to be entertaining. It’s football.
“I’m a simple man,” he added with a laugh. “If we score more goals than them, we’re going to win.”
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