Welcome the Houston Dash, NWSL's first ever expansion franchise. Seemingly taking a page from Paul Riley's Spare Parts Strategy to Building Expansion Teams, first-year head coach Randy Waldrum has put together a roster that's heavy on underused and discarded veterans with some new talent sprinkled in for good measure.
Head Coach: Randy Waldrum, first season
Where we left off: With one fewer team and a lot less orange.
We're going to just go ahead and get that Apollo 13 reference out of the way right here: Backstopping the Dash in its inaugural season are Erin McLeod and Bianca Henninger. McLeod — recently named the Dash's captain — comes to Houston after what had to be a frustrating 2013 behind a Chicago defense that could never quite figure out how to get out of its own way. The Canadian International made 16 appearances for the Red Stars in 2013, allowing 28 goals. Henninger saw limited time last season as a backup to Nicole Barnhart in Kansas City, and will likely fill the same role with the Dash. The Santa Clara product played just two games for the Blues, allowing three goals. Henninger has extensive experience at the Youth National Team level for the U.S., and is familiar with Waldrum, who she played for with the U-23s. Houston may have ... ahem, a problem ... though, with only two goalkeepers on the active roster.
"Don't get so defensive." "Okay, we won't.": Waldrum did well to build his defense around a trio of experienced players. Except two thirds of that trio, Whitney Engen and Megan Klingenberg, will miss at least the beginning of the season because of commitments with Swedish club Tyreso FF. Both players are set to join the Dash when Tyreso's Champion's League campaign ends — the team is scheduled to take on Birmingham on the 19th and 27th of April in the semifinal round. If Tyreso advances, Klingenberg and Engen wouldn't be available to the Dash until after the final, scheduled for May 22. Which means that this very-solid-on-paper trio will actually be mostly a solo act, with former FC Kansas City centerback Lauren Sesselmann playing all the hits. Except, oh, what's that? Right. Sesselmann tore her ACL in March while training with the Canadian National Team. Houston, we have a... No? Sorry. Rookies Marissa Diggs and Arianna Romero and former Washington Spirit-er Kika Toulouse are what's left among the very slim pickings for anything resembling a back line.
The quest for the longest resume in Women's Soccer comes to Houston: AKA, Nikki Washington, welcome to the Dash. Washington, who's played for or been associated with six WPS teams and one previous NWSL team to this point, joins a Houston midfield made up almost entirely of players who saw their 2013 cut short by injury. Washington and fellow former Thorn Becky Edwards both missed significant time last season because of knee injuries, while Brittany Bock saw her 2013 cut short thanks to a broken wrist that occurred in her first game back after missing time because of broken ribs. The good news for Houston? All three have been playing — and making some pretty significant contributions — in the Dash's preseason matches. Bock, like Henninger, also has some experience with Waldrum, playing for the now-Dash head coach while both were at Notre Dame. Bock and Edwards were picked up by Houston in the Expansion Draft, while Washington was acquired via a draft-day trade. Mexico international Theresa Noyola, allocated to the Dash after spending 2013 mostly coming off the bench for Seattle and Kansas City, completes the spare-part midfield puzzle.
Fresh start: Offensively, the Dash don't look particularly flashy. Ella Masar was perhaps the one of the Expansion Draft's biggest unprotected surprises. Despite local ties to the Chicago area, the longtime Red Star now heads to Houston. The change of scenery may do Masar some good though, with a string of mostly uneven and disappointing pro seasons in Chicago and also with a team we're not allowed to mention that rhymes with "tragicQuack." Joining Masar on the Dash's front line is Kealia Ohai, the second overall pick in the 2014 College Draft. Ohai was a standout player at North Carolina and has also scored some big goals for the U.S. as a member of the Under-20s. Former Washington Spirit mainstay Stephanie Ochs and rookie Brazil international Rafaelle Souza round out the offense.
In conclusion: How well the Dash can get through the weeks/months without Klingenberg and Engen may have a lot to do with how the season goes. Seattle faced a similar situation in 2013 waiting for the return of Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo — and the Reign were really just not that great at the waiting. By the time those two players returned and helped Seattle turn things around, it was already too late. Houston will have to do a better job weathering that storm if they hope to stay competitive. Or they could all just live in the LEM until Ed Harris and Bill Paxton can figure something else out.