One week after recording the first victory in franchise history, the Houston Dash visit Seattle Reign FC in the sternest test yet for the young team. They will do so with a short bench for the second week in a row due to injuries and unavailable players.
After a disappointing season last year, Seattle looks potentially the best team in the NWSL after the first two weeks of the season. They have scored three goals in each of their first two matches and might easily have had more, hitting multiple posts and crossbars.
Head Coach/GM Laura Harvey has assembled a frightening array of attacking talent including: Sydney Leroux, Megan Rapinoe, Kim Little, Jessica Fishlock and Naho Kawasumi just to name a few players.
The Dash, on the other hand, are looking a little thin in attack at the moment. Forward Kealia Ohai has recovered enough to participate in full practice for the first time on Friday, however according to Head Coach Randy Waldrum it is unlikely she may not be able to play for much more than 45 minutes.
Forward Ella Masar, who scored the first goal in Dash history last week, also is hurting after leaving the match against the Boston Breakers last week with a hamstring injury. She missed practice for the first part of the week but was in full practice on Friday as well. She will be available to play however it is unlikely she can go a full 90 minutes.
Rafaelle Souza, who flew in for the Boston game from Ole Miss, will not be available this week. She has returned to school and has final exams coming up shortly, including three projects to complete. Given the impact she had after coming on as a sub in the 2nd half the Dash will miss her presence.
Seattle Reign FC (2-0-0), 6 points, 1st place
This the final match in a season opening three match home stand for Seattle. Four of their next five matches are away from home, therefore Seattle will be focused on ensuring they take maximum points from this match.
In their opening 3-0 win over the Boston Breakers, Rapinoe looked the most dangerous player on the pitch. In Seattle’s mid-week win win over the Washington Spirit, Rapinoe did not even play yet the Reign still put up three goals. This pretty well sums up the depth of attacking talent on the Seattle roster.
Leroux, who arrived via trade in the offseason, looked like she was still gelling with her teammates against Boston. Against Washington, however, she looked fully settled and an integral part of the attack. Her pace has the potential to cause disarray in the Houston back line as Boston’s Heather O’Reilly did last week.
Harvey typically favors a similar attack oriented 4-3-3 to the one preferred by Houston – control possession, play out of the back, build up the attack. Their back line looks potentially suspect, but thus far this season opponents have struggled to get enough possession to test it. This is what Waldrum aspires to with the Dash as well:
Honestly that’s the way that I’d love to build our team. We talk about our attacking, I think the best way to defend is to have the ball and I think they do that well.
Within this system, Seattle has shown an ability to create plentiful opportunities through the run-of-play. They have also shown the ability to score off of set pieces; two of their three goals against Washington came off of corner kicks and they scored on a penalty against Boston. Protecting against set piece goals will be critical for the Dash.
Houston Dash (1-0-1), 3 points, 3rd place tie
Houston has generated plenty of scoring opportunities over the past two weeks against both Portland and Boston, however they have not been as efficient in converting those opportunities as they would like to be.
As noted last week, help is on the way in the form of an international proven goal scorer. Unfortunately, though, the paperwork involved with getting that player in place and able to play has dragged on to where she may not be available now until the May 11th match against Chicago Red Stars.
Against Seattle, Houston should be able to generate scoring opportunities, as did Boston and Washington. They are going to have to be far more clinical, however, in finishing those chances.
Defensively, the Dash are going to have to do whatever they can to limit the space that Seattle has to play in. According to Waldrum:
We have to figure out a way to condense the space they play in; we’ve got to shorten the field some when they have the ball. I don’t know if that is going to be dropping our team in a little deeper or whether we’ll push our back line up a little higher. There’s a couple of things tactically that we have to figure out how we want to handle.
In the event the Dash opt to press high and push the back line up, the obvious risk is that Seattle’s speed enables them to get behind the defense the way O’Reilly did for Boston’s first goal. The inexperienced Dash back line, which looked relatively veteran against Portland, was a bit disorganized at times against Boston. Leaving them to fend with the likes of Leroux may be asking a lot.
More likely, the Dash defend a bit deeper than they have in their first two matches and look to counter. While this is not Waldrum’s preferred style of play, being on the road against Seattle may well dictate a need for it. As a result, the midfield will likely look the same as last week with Dominique Richardson alongside Becky Edwards as a more defensive minded presence and Jordan Jackson in front of them.
This leaves Teresa Noyola on the bench; however the advantage to that is it provides an option to bring her play making abilities into the match as a second half substitute if needed.
I would love nothing more than to see the Dash show a tremendous amount of heart in coming away with another result. The heart will no doubt be on display, but the result is likely asking a bit much against as potent a side as Seattle. I expect the Reign to come away with a victory, but the Dash will make it difficult on them. Final score: 2-1.
Seattle Reign FC: Amanda Frisbie (out), Carmelina Moscato (out), Megan Rapinoe (probable)
Houston Dash: Brittany Bock (out), Lauren Sesselmann (out), Bianca Henninger (probable), Kealia Ohai (probable), Ella Masar (probable)
Seattle Reign FC: GK: Solo; Def: Cox, Barnes, Fletcher, Reed; Mid: Winters, Fishlock, Little; Fwd – Rapinoe, Leroux, Kawasumi
Houston Dash: GK: McLeod; Def: Washington, Hein, Ohale, Romero; Mid: Richardson, Edwards, Jackson; Fwd: Ochs, Masar, McCarty
Date: Sunday, April 27th
Start Time: 6pm CST
Live Stream: YouTube
Tags: Houston Dash