2023 S-2 Briefing: Houston Dash

In our look at our 2023 opponents we’ve come to the final playoff team from 2022.

This club is one I always have a hard time remembering.

Mostly, I think, because they’ve always just seemed the most “blah” unmemorable club in the league, a perennial lower-mid-table struggler whose struggles are…whatever the opposite of “heroic” are. Boring? Pointless? Whatever the reason, Houston has always been my “Oh, yeah…umm…remind me again who you are…” outfit of the NWSL.

They DID make the playoffs – briefly – last season, though, so here are the…

Houston Dash

Year formed: 2013
The Dash were the first NWSL expansion side; their official birthdate is December 2013.

They were also the second MLS-NWSL partnership, tho the relationship has always felt different, at least to me, from the Timbers-Thorns; where the Thorns were always presented as a stand-alone club the Dash have always felt like the “ladies auxiliary” of the Houston Dynamo. Same kit colors, nearly identical logo, even the same horrible dead-eyed fox-creature mascot:

The relationship on the pitch has been very different, as well.

Dash flopped out of the gate with a thud in 2014 and that less-than-proud tradition has continued pretty much ever since – with one bizarre exception.

2014 – 5-16-3, dead last.
2015 – 6-8-6, 5th of 9, closest the Dash came to postseason glory before last year…but six points adrift so not that close.
2016 – 6-10-4, 8th of 10.
2017 – 7-3-14, 8th of 10.
2018 – 9-5-10, 6th of 9.
2019 – 7-5-12, 7th of 9.
2020 – Challenge Cup Champions!
I’ve left 2020 out of everyone else’s profile up to this point, but I kind of have to throw it in here because it’s the only honor the poor Dash have ever won.
While the rest of us were moaning the Plague-striken season the hitherto-hapless Dash did the most un-Dash-like thing ever – they won something.
They also came in second in the ridiculous “Fall Series” thing, so the Plague Year was goddamn Annus Mirabilus in Houston.
(This hilarious Jillian Fisher video is a must-see reminder of the whole bizarre business…)
2021 – Back to reality: 9-5-10, 7th of 10. But…close; in the first year of expanded playoffs the Dash missed the postseason by only two points

Owner: Ted Segal
The Dash are, like the Thorns, owned by the owner of the MLS club. That’s this guy, another one of the usual vulture capitalists you find in pro soccer C-Suites. He’s got fingers in real estate, power companies, and the usual finance pies.

Before his purchase the Dash ownership had a record of shifty hiring and staff issues.

Part of this is, obviously, that the Dash have pretty consistently sucked, so they tend to go through managers like kleenex. But the Dash coaching hires included Vera Pauw (2017), who was supposedly one of these fat-shamer/player-bollocking types, and James Clarkson (2019-2022), who got canned for all the usual player-harassment problems. Both were called out in the Yates and the NWSL/PA reports, and Clarkson was out this past December.

Segal bought out the other minority owners – there were three of them – last spring, so 2022 was the first year of the Segal Era. Dude came in promising all the usual, and did, indeed, oversee the first Dash playoff season. His short tenure has pretty much insulated him from the Paulson/Whisler level of culpability for the earlier fuckery. How the Dash will do under his ownership going forward is not yet obvious.

Head Coach: Sam Laity
Yet another Brit, Laity was a long-time (and I mean loooong; he started in 2013) Laura Harvey assistant. I can’t find anything about him, down to whether, or where, he might have played and anything else. If you’re interested Sounder at Heart has a fun little piece about him including the origin of the famous(?) “Sideways Thumbs Up” gesture here.

Last season was the first shot the Dash had at silverware since the COVID Cup. It was…interesting.

2022 – 10-6-6 (36 points; 4th of 12) 35GF 27GA +8GD
Season summary: Houston was – for Houston – shockingly good in 2022. They were in second by Matchday 6 and kept yo-yoing from there to the red line and back like a carousel pony:

The Dash kept getting up to second and then falling back, last between Matchdays 14 and 16. They got thumped by San Diego 3-1 on MD16, struggled through a couple of draws to lose more ground, and even a final day win over Washington couldn’t drag them back up out of the play-in round, so they hosted Kansas City in the quarterfinal.

That day the Dash gave up an early PK but equalized and then proceeded to nuke A.D. Franch, who played like a madwoman and kept her club in the match until the dying minutes.

The quarterfinal looked to be headed into overtime when in the tenth minute of the ten-minute second half injury time Houston turned the ball over and gave up the dagger in a defensive rat-scramble that ended Houston’s first regulation-season playoff run.
Meetings with Portland: 5/21/22 (0-2 away win), 6/12/22 (0-4 home loss)

Outstanding players: Houston, in keeping with their just-sorta-there existence, seems to have had a whole bunch of “close-to-but-not-really-big stars, the only exception being Carli Lloyd who played there between 2015 and 2017 and did squat, – 11 goals in 27 games over the three seasons – hated it, and then went to Sky Blue in the most Houston deal ever, for Christen Press who told the Dash to fuck right off and signed in Sweden rather than go there.

The only other close-to-big-name the Dash have ever played – before last season – was English forward Rachel Daly.

Daly played just about 100 games for Houston between 2016 and 2022 and was the engine of the COVID Cup-winners, but she departed for the homeland this past year.

Last season the Dash dealt for another Englander, forward Ebony Salmon who’d been on the outs with the Louisville manager. Salmon arrived in June with a chip on her shoulder and proceeded to tear up the turf, ending the season with 9 goals in 13 games as Houston’s leading scorer.

Nichelle Prince added five goals and both Sophie Schmidt and Daly threw in four and one apiece. Three players had two goals each. Former NWSL menace Shea Groom managed only a single goal in 14 starts.

The Dash defensive midfield and backline were very Houstonesque; serviceable without being particularly outstanding. The xG-against chart we looked at for Chicago shows their work as the middle-of-the-playoff-pack-meh it was, as well as reminding us that Jane Campell is the Houston of goalkeepers; good, but not that good.

Team/GoalkeeperxG againstGAGamesxGa/gameD/Diff
Kansas City/Franch31.3824231.36-0.32
San Diego/Sheridan22.5917201.13-0.28

Here’s that Dror chart showing the late collapse/come-from-behind games. Houston was pretty good at rescuing points, but also fairly bad about dropping them; the net gain looks like about +2.

So sort of a very Houston-like wash.

The thing that jumps out from Houston’s 2022 roster is Salmon.

She was a raging fire last year, angry and impatient to prove Louisville had been wrong about her. Will she return this spring with that sort of rage-energy?

Nichelle Prince went down in a November 2022 Canada friendly with a knee injury and is listed on the Houston website as out for the season. She was a big part of the 2022 success, and with Daly gone will be missed if that’s so. The Dash saw that problem and moved to fix it, which we’ll talk about.

How did they score?

Here’s Arielle Dror’s scoring chart. Again, I’ve broken down the Dash numbers:

Like Chicago, Houston scored a very average sort of number of goals from the run of play. The other 30% or so were a hash of setpieces of various types, PKs, and more work out of Own Goal than anyone else in the league. Damn, she’s good in Houston.

What’s worth noting is how many goals Houston lost at the end of last season:

Take out Prince and Daly and suddenly Houston is Washington and below the red line. Obviously that was a problem, and the question is has it been fixed.

Whether a full season of Salmon, Ordóñez, or Salmon-plus-Ordóñez will fill that hole remains to be seen. My guess is yes, but as we’re going to see just now, Houston is the Karma Chameleon of clubs and it’s difficult to forecast them.

How Did They Look?

I won’t kid you; I haven’t the damnedest idea what the hell Laity was doing there last season.

The Dash changed their formation and starters more last season than there are costume changes in a Cher concert.

Here’s how they looked in the 2-goal win here in May (attacking towards the top):

Looks like a 3-4-3 to me, or if you want to consider just Daly and Prince as forwards, a 5-3-2. Groom is ACM, Sophie Schmidt and Kelcie Hedge in central midfield with Maria Sanchez at left- and Hailey Hanson at right-wingback, and Chapman-Naughton-Prisock across the back.

But here they are just a month later losing 0-4 in Houston (attacking towards the bottom:

Same formation, but everyone in front of the backline is different; Groom is in the Daly spot, Michaela Abam in the Prince spot, and Bri Visalli in the ACM/Groom spot. Behind them Emily Ogle (hi, EO!) is where Hedge was, and Marisa Viggiano is where Schmidt was. Only the backs are the same; even the result is flipped

Hosting Chicago in July the Dash have changed again:

Now it looks like a straight 4-3-3, only with Sanchez at center forward with Salmon with right and Ryan Gareis wide left. Groom is pulled back to center mid and the two midfielder from June – Ogle and Viggiano – as RM and LM. Meanwhile the backline is all shaken up; Liz Eddy replaces Sanchez at LB, Natalie Jacobs is where Hanson was at RB, Chapman’s gone and Prisock and Naughton are dual CBs.

The result was fine – 4-1, and you’d be fine, too, if you figured that this would see Houston through to the knockouts.


The Dash looked like this losing 3-1 in San Diego in August:

Still a 4-3-3 but Salmon and Sanchez flip, Prince is back at LF, Gareis replaces Groom, Schmidt replaces Ogle and then switches sides with Viggiano. In back Chapman displaces Eddy but everyone else is the same.

Confused yet? Wait! There’s more; here’s Houston in the quarterfinal:

Now we’ve got a new one – some sort of 4-2-3-1 is what it looks like, with Salmon still the center forward and Sanchez at LW, but now Prince had dropped in behind Salmon as some sort of ACM/withdrawn striker, and Nigerian international Michelle Alozie is out at RW.

Schmidt and Viggiano are still there, only as dual CMs. In back it’s the usual cast but Caprice Dydasco replaces Chapman.

It was also kind of sterile; Dror’s xG race just points out how “possession” and attacks don’t mean anything if you can’t turn them into goals:

Houston chips and chips at the Current defense but doesn’t get great looks (and Franch stones them when they do) and Kansas City has two – literally, just two – opportunities and sinks them.

Take them away and what did KCC get, about 0.3 xG? But those two moments kicked Houston out of their long-hoped for postseason run. Not bad playing, not bad tactics…just bad luck.

That’s…so Dashy I can’t even.

Changes for 2023

We’ve talked about Daly. If Prince really is out for the season, too, that’s going to mean finding goals, which would explain their signing Mexican international forward Diana Ordóñez as a free agent from Carolina.

The Dash also poached another international from The Damned, Jamaican midfielder Havana Solaun, and their roster also lists a forward, Paulina Gramaglia, who was in Houston on loan from the Argentine club UAI Urquiza during 2022. Not sure what either brings.

On the loss side midfielder Bri Visalli left for the FAWSL at the end of 2022. The Dash also have several players out of contract whose names don’t appear on their current roster page, including Elizabeth Eddy, Michelle Abam, and Kelsie Hedge. Not sure on their current status. The other free agents and tendered players are on the current roster list.

Houston had no first round draft picks in 2023. Instead, here’s how their selections want:
Sophie Hirst (CDM) – 2nd round #19
Jylissa Harris (centerback) – 2nd round #21
Linsi Jennings (CB, RB) – 3nd round #36, and
Madelyne Desiano (LB,RD) – 4th round #48

Henderson loved all these picks, grading them as “A”s or “A-“. I’d looked at Harris in our draft preview and liked what I saw, so I tend to agree at least with her, and (given his knowledge of the NCAA) I tend to agree with Henderson that Houston did well playing a relatively poor draft hand.

What they’re going to do with all this, though? That’s a hell of a good question.

How they’ll look next year?

Here’s what Henderson thinks:

Not sure about the 4-4-2, given that of all the formations we saw in 2022 that was the one we didn’t. Here’s my guess, instead:

Same-same 3-4-2-1/3-4-3 we saw from Laity last season but with some new faces. I won’t even try and kid you, though; I’m totally spitballing here..

Houston needs a serious breakout season from someone or someones. Could that be Salmon? Ordonez? Both?

If so…that could be real hard to handle.

Summing Up

This is where I kinda throw my hands up. Part of it is Houston-fatigue; this outfit is hard to care about, at least for me. It always seems like it’s just there. Not good enough or thuggish enough to hate. Not bad enough to despise, or clever and attractive enough to envy.

What might change that is both Salmon and Ordóñez having monster seasons in 2023. If those two can combine effectively? Woof. This club could score like a pinball machine. Combine that with a decent defense and Campbell solid in goaL? Suddenly a trip to the Land of Refineries might be a lot less fun.

Will that happen? Your guess is as good as mine.


I’m going to say at least another hard look at the playoffs unless something awful happens. Fourth? Third? It could happen. Don’t see a Shield, but also don’t see a Spoon. Houston being Houston, though, watch them putz around and finish seventh.

Will they be dangerous? I think so, if for no other reason than the two players we’ve been talking about. I don’t see them as “Current-dangerous” or “Wave-dangerous” but I can see them as one of these clubs, the way Chicago used to be, who will always take points off you and will beat you if you let them.

Can the Thorns beat them? Yes. Same thing as always with them; keep their star(s) locked down and attack.

That said, Houston next season might be the New Chicago, Perennial Draw-ers. Remember how the Red Stars used to be a lock-down draw for Portland? That might be these people. Salmon and Ordóñez neutralize Smith and Weaver, and their backline matches up with ours, so scoreless or 1-1 draw. I could see that

Suddenly I want to start paying attention to these jokers, and that might be the single nicest thing I’ve ever said about them.

Next up: The Village of the Damned

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

2 thoughts on “2023 S-2 Briefing: Houston Dash

  1. I have always found the Thorns matchups with the Dash interesting. When the Thorns travel I always look at the Houston weather (but same with Orlando). When Raso would tangle with Daly that was always so much fun. Raso seem to really get under Daly’s skin. I like to watch Sofie Schmidt play, she is just so solid, on the other hand Chapman is a bit of a thug, but she is effective except when it is a red card.
    But as you suggest, they are hard to figure and are always dangerous.
    I appreciated your history of the club. They have not been a place some players want to go. When Mana Shim played there, she was here for a post season game as a spectator. Someone near me saw her and asked her how she liked Houston. She just ran the edge of her hand across her throat. Later when we learned more about what she went through here in Portland my reaction was “Gosh there are all kinds of bad in this league.” The fact that Carli Lloyd was eager to go to Sky Blue that was it’s own kind of mess and Press decided it was better to play in Europe than Houston says a lot about the hot mess, Houston has been. Speaking of hot, Yup, there is that weather. Remember Rachel Daly passing out in the heat. It can be brutal.

    1. The steambath humidity there sucks, but Houston is, frankly, kind of an industrial wasteland. It’s got big-city amenities, yes, but it’s kind of deep-in-the-heart-of-yeehaw-Texas; when I lived there it didn’t even try to have a sort of city gloss like Austin or even Dallas. It was real red-neck-y, and I can’t imagine being a woman soccer player would be a lot of fun there; you’d have to really watch yourself. It was “anti-woke” long before that was even a phrase.

      So for a player like Shim, who was unashamedly out? Yike. Yeah, that’d suck bigtime.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.