Preview: Houston Dash vs. Portland Thorns FC


Saturday night is the inaugural match for Houston’s newest professional sports franchise, the Houston Dash. The schedule makers provided the Dash with a challenging,yet intriguing debut match-up against the defending champs, Portland Thorns FC.

The 2014 version of Portland bears little resemblance to the side that defeated Western New York Flash last August by a score of 2-0 in the NWSL Final. Gone are head coach Cindy Parlow Cone and the majority of the roster – only 8 players remain from last seasons squad. Newly arrived are head coach Paul Riley, FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year Nadine Angerer and talented Spanish midfielder Verónica Boquete.

The Dash are the new kid on the block, with a roster consisting of a number of young and relatively untested players but led by an experienced and well respected coach in Randy Waldrum.

The match promises to be entertaining, as both head coaches prefer a high pressing, play out of the back, attacking style of play. Possession and quick passing will be the order of the day and the midfield which bosses the game best will likely be the one that gets the result.

The Teams

Portland Thorns FC (0-0-0) 0 points

Portland is without their talented young striker Alex Morgan for this one. Morgan is out with a lingering injury. Midfielders Tobin Heath and Boquete are also not available; Heath will join in June from Paris Saint-Germain and Boquete will arrive from Tyresö following the completion of their UEFA Champions League campaign.

Nevertheless, Portland will still have dangerous weapons on the pitch and Christine Sinclair (8 goals last season, 148 in 208 CAPs for Canada) must surely be salivating at the thought of going after Houston’s young and inexperienced back line. Not surprisingly, Coach Waldrum has highlighted containing Sinclair as one of the keys to the match.

Aug 24, 2013; Overland Park, KS, USA; FC Kansas City defender Merritt Mathias (9) and Portland Thorns forward Christine Sinclair (12) head the ball during the second half of the match at Shawnee Mission District Stadium. Portland won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Without Heath and Boquete, the focus of the midfield lies on Allie Long and the young and talented Meleana Shim (taken by the Dash in the expansion draft, then traded back). Long has had a strong preseason while Shim looks to build on her 5 goals and 2 assists of last season.

The Dash received a bit of a break when US Women’s National Team defender, Rachel Van Hollebeke left the US match versus China early on Thursday night with an injury. Van Hollebeke is listed as doubtful for Saturday night’s match. If she is unable to go, Riley could opt to play three at the back with Nikki Marshall in the middle.

Still, with Angerer in goal the Thorns will feel confident in their chances of getting a clean sheet.

Houston Dash (0-0-0) 0 points

On paper the Dash stand no chance in this one and are destined to finish bottom of the table this season as many pundits have predicted. Those pundits are ignoring the character of the team, however, as well as Waldrum’s knowledge of the players and ability to get the most out of them.

Much of this Dash team has played either for Waldrum at Notre Dame, in the US National Team system or against him regularly in the ACC. They were picked specifically for their connection to Waldrum and his experience with them. Teams that underestimate that factor will likely pay for doing so this season.

The biggest concern for the Dash going into this match is the back line. In an ideal world, the Dash would have put out a side that included Lauren Sesselmann and Aya Sameshima in the back line. With US National Team defenders Whitney Engen and Meghan Klingenberg due to join the side by June at the latest, by mid-summer the Dash would have had one of the best back lines in the league.

Instead, Sesselmann is out for the season with a torn ACL and Sameshima is in Japan with her status uncertain given a torn meniscus. As a result, the Dash will field a back line whose oldest player is 24 and that has minimal professional experience.

Waldrum’s high pressing style means the back line will have to grow up fast. When I asked Coach Waldrum whether he intended to alter his approach to provide better protection to the back line, he indicated that he would stick with his game plan and the back line would either learn how to work together and keep Portland under control or they would get carved up and learn a valuable lesson to build upon.

The Dash are in a race against time to get newly signed Nigerian defender, Osinachi Ohale’s paperwork complete prior to the match so that she can start in the center of the defense.

Veteran keeper and team captain, Erin McLeod, has a big role to fill in keeping the back line organized and effective. The fact that she was selected as captain is illustrative of her ability to do so.

Key to the Dash success tomorrow night will be the midfield trio of Brittany Bock, Becky Edwards and Jordan Jackson or Teresa Noyola. As Coach Waldrum told me, if the midfield controls play and links well with the forwards then the match will go well. If not, then Portland will be all over the Houston defense.


May 19, 2013; Tukwila, WA, USA; Sky Blue FC midfielder Brittany Bock (10) reacts to receiving a yellow card for a foul against Seattle Reign FC midfielder Jessica Fislock (10) during the second half at Starfire Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Ticket demand for this match has been strong, leading the team to open up seating in the upper bowl. It will be a raucous crowd and a motivated team. While there will likely be early jitters, if the Dash hold firm early then I expect them to ride the wave of fan support to a debut win much as the Houston Dynamo did in 2006.

While the scoreline will be nowhere near the scoreline the Dynamo produced in their debut, the Dash will get a result. It will be tight, but I see the Dash winning 1-0.

Injury Report

Portland Thorns FC: Alex Morgan (out), Rachel Van Hollebeke (doubtful)

Houston Dash: Lauren Sesselmann (out)

Projected Starting Lineups

Portland Thorns FC: GK – Nadine Angerer, Def – Sarah Huffman, Nikki Marshall, Courtney Niemiec, Rebecca Moros, Mid – Amber Brooks, Allie Long, Sinead Farrelly, Meleana Shim, Fwd – Christine Sinclair, Jessica McDonald

Houston Dash: GK – Erin McLeod, Def – Ari Romero, Melissa Diggs, Osinachi Ohale, Marissa Diggs, Nikki Washington, Mid – Brittany Bock, Jordan Jackson, Becky Edwards, Fwd – Tiffany McCarty, Ella Masar, Kealia Ohai

Read why you should care about the Houston Dash here.

See how the Houston Dash roster was built here.

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