By Arianna Cascone
The Houston Dash made the playoffs for the first time last season. They finished 2022 in fourth place but tied for 36 points with two other teams (San Diego Wave and Kansas City). The Dash ended up losing to Kansas City in the 90+10th minute in the first round of the playoffs, and they’ll undoubtedly be on a mission to avenge that loss in 2023.
So, what should we look forward to this season?
A new head coach
Last season saw three head coaches for the Dash. Former head coach James Clarkson was suspended in April 2022, and first assistant Sarah Lowdon stepped in as the acting head coach while the Dash searched for a new person to fill the role. Once Clarkson was dismissed, the Dash started turning around their 2022 ship. Lowdon went on the record preaching the importance of defensive organization off-the-ball movement. The first four games of Lowdon’s short tenure saw those principles translate on the field after Houston improved in goals conceded per game for the Dash: on average, they were conceding 1.7 fewer goals per game (0.5 goals conceded/game vs. 2.2 goals conceded per game). Of course, it goes without saying here that the sample size was quite small, but it’s important to acknowledge Lowdon’s successes.
Juan Carlos Amorós was hired as the interim head coach in June 2022. Amorós saw immediate success in the NWSL as a first-timer. In fact, he became the first head coach in history to win their first three games. He also led the Dash to their first playoff berth in their nine-year history, and hosted that match-up to boot. Despite those successes, Amorós left the Dash almost immediately in the offseason. He’s now the head coach at NJ/NY Gotham FC, and longtime OL Reign assistant Sam Laity has taken the reins at the Dash.
This will be Laity’s first head-coaching gig, so it remains to be seen if he’s up for that challenge. Houston’s actually returning players that accounted for a huge portion of their 2022 minutes (80%), and those players were obviously successful last season. That will help Laity this season, but he also brought in a huge squad–made of up 34 players–for preseason. That might indicate that he’s hand-picking his roster additions, and rounding out his roster with players that best fit his coaching style.
Some exciting attackers
Speaking of additions, Diana Ordóñez’ trade was one of the biggest stories to come out of the 2023 NWSL Draft this year. Ordóñez requested the trade in the offseason, and North Carolina clearly made it happen. The Courage sent Ordóñez and the No. 30 overall pick to Houston in return for the No. 8 overall pick, which North Carolina used to draft defender Sydney Collins. It was an interesting move for the Courage, considering Ordóñez made 17 starts in 19 appearances in North Carolina, but head coach Sean Nahas said the team wanted to honor her requests to be closer to home. Ordóñez also finished fourth in the NWSL Golden Boot race with 11 goals, only behind Debinha on the Courage roster. Those 11 goals even broke the league record for goals scored in a rookie season.
North Carolina’s loss is Houston’s huge gain.
There’s no doubt that Ordóñez will be headlining the Houston attack this year, paired with Ebony Salmon. Ordóñez scored 11 goals on 7.27 xG, and Salmon scored 9 goals on 5.38 xG. That translated to 0.83 goals on 0.46 xG per 96’ for Salmon, which was the highest goals minus expected goals value in the league (read: overperformance). Unfortunately for Houston, Ordóñez was ranked third in that overperformance measure, having scored 0.71 goals on 0.24 xG per 96’ mark. We should expect some regression to the mean for these players, which might translate to fewer goals scored.
María Sánchez will also be a player to watch in Houston’s attacking third. Sánchez was second on the entire Dash roster in passing goals added in 2022, though the player ahead of her (Julia Ashley, CB) only played 172 minutes. Sánchez also recorded two goals and four assists last season, which was her first full season in the NWSL.
Sánchez, who is known for her signature footwork on the flanks, led the team in crosses into the penalty area in 2022. We should expect her to do that again this season, especially now that one of her targets will be 5’11” Ordóñez, who also happens to be her Mexican women’s national teammate. Both Sánchez and Ordóñez will be available for the Dash through the 2023 World Cup window, considering Mexico failed to qualify last summer. Heartbreaking for both players, but very good for Houston.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Nichelle Prince in this discussion of the Dash attack. Unfortunately, Prince tore her Achilles in the offseason during a Canadian women’s national team friendly and will be unavailable this season. Prince was second in scoring and assists for the Dash last year, with five goals and three assists. She posted the second-highest xG+xA value (0.40) of all Houston players who recorded at least 1000 minutes in 2022. Her injury is a huge loss to this Houston team, but hopefully for them, Ordóñez will make up for at least some of it.
A high defensive line
Houston conceded 27 goals last season, which came out to 1.14 goals against per game. That’s actually their best mark since 2016 (i.e., as far back as our database goes). Digging into the numbers a little more, Houston ranked second-to-last on total clearances last season, but first in interceptions. They also led the league in offsides provoked. An ‘offsides provoked’ event is awarded to the last defender when an attacker is called offside.