Houston Dash Preview: Out with the old, in with the new for James Clarkson

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Houston Dash
BRIDGEVIEW, IL — MAY 12: Houston Dash forward Kealia Ohai (7) dribbles with the ball against the Chicago Red Stars on May 12, 2018 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Editorial (March 26, 2019) — The Houston Dash wasted no time getting their squad together this off-season. James Clarkson was the first vacant head coach hire in the league, replacing Vera Pauw. Meanwhile, Clarkson immediately went to work rebuilding his roster.

Last year, Houston made a valiant playoff push. With four victories against Sky Blue FC and the Washington Spirit, Houston couldn’t hang on against teams like North Carolina, the Utah Royals and Reign FC.

Houston Dash Preview: Out with the old, in with the new for James Clarkson

In 2018, Houston received some bolstering to their squad. With a healthy Kealia Ohai in the mix, Houston also obtained Sofia Huerta in a trade. However, instead of playing her at right back, the position Huerta requested the trade for — due to Jill Ellis playing her out of position on the U.S. Women’s National Team — Pauw played her in the midfield and attack.

Because of this, Huerta essentially fell out of Ellis’ favor. However, she found success on the pitch with Houston, scoring five goals in 12 appearances.

Meanwhile, last season experienced Houston losing a valuable player of the team in Kristie Mewis. The midfielder fell to an ACL injury in the beginning of the season. Mewis has been working hard at her rehab and will look to return this season.

With a healthy roster, Houston can take last year’s playoff push and turn it into something special. Before the season begins, here are three key questions surrounding the Houston Dash.

What kind of year will Veronica Latsko have?

Despite being drafted, NWSL rookies aren’t required to fill a roster spot. Instead, sometimes, those that were drafted don’t even make the final roster for the team that chose them.

However, that wasn’t the case for Veronica Latsko.

The forward from Pittsburgh, Pa., was drafted with the No. 38 overall pick in last year’s NWSL College Draft. Immediately, Latsko made a splash for Houston. In 2018, Latsko totaled 21 appearances, starting nine matches for the Dash. She scored four goals, but was somehow left out of Rookie of the Year contention.

To keep her form at pristine level, Latsko traveled down to Australia in the off-season for the W-League season. She joined Adelaide United and scored nine goals in 10 matches. Latsko helped Adelaide United reach sixth place and gain the most-ever points on the table, finishing with 18 points.

Latsko never got swarmed by the talent among her in Houston. She wasn’t overshadowed by Rachel Daly, Kyah Simon, Nichelle Prince and Ohai. Instead, Latsko was able to make her own successes and her own name.

She can only grow in 2019. In a World Cup year, Latsko won’t be making any senior national team rosters. With Daly likely heading to France with England, Prince taking the trip with Canada and Ohai being a question mark for the United States, her minutes should go up. Look for her to add more than just four goals on the season.

How will the midfield look with Schmidt and Nairn?

This off-season, Clarkson bolstered the midfield.

Christine Nairn was picked up by Houston in a trade with the Orlando Pride. Meanwhile, just a couple weeks ago, Sophie Schmidt, a veteran Canadian international, signed with the Dash. Nairn was a regular starter in Orlando and Schmidt is no stranger to the NWSL. No longer is Nichelle Prince the only Canadian on the roster.

Houston has a crowded midfield with plenty of talent. With the departure of South African international Linda Motlhalo — all three South African players from last year’s roster have moved on to different clubs, with Motlhalo and Thembi Kgatlana signing with Beijing BG Phoenix F.C. in China — the competition is even wider.

Huerta and Mewis will likely be starters, although it’s unknown if Mewis will start of the gate this season. Meanwhile, Taylor Comeau and Haley Hanson put up admirable numbers last year. Meleana Shim is also another midfielder on the roster. Meanwhile, in the NWSL College Draft, Clarkson picked up midfielders Betsy Brandon and Grace Cutler. Add in Nairn and Schmidt and it’s a crowded midfield.

There’s no dispute that Schmidt will be a starter. To put someone with her numbers and caliber on the bench is outright nonsense. As for Nairn, she might have to split playing time with players like Comeau and Hanson.

Will Houston have one of the more intact defenses?

The answer to this is a resounding yes.

Houston shouldn’t have too many World Cup absences. Aside from those already mentioned — Daly, Schmidt and Prince — Clare Polkinghorne should be added to Australia’s roster while Allysha Chapman and Lindsay Agnew should be a shoe-in for Canada.

Meanwhile, Houston’s defense will largely remain at home. Amber Brooks has been a dominant and fierce competitor on defense, always willing to fight back at referees. Meanwhile, in a recent preseason match, Brooks was paired up on defense with newly acquired defenders Satara Murray and Arianna Romero.

Romero is a Mexican international, so the Dash won’t have to worry about her this summer, as Mexico failed to qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup. This isn’t Romero’s first stint with the Dash, as she began her career with the club in 2014. Romero joins the Dash from Icelandic club Valur.

As for Murray, the English international has only been called up to the U-23 team. It’s unlikely that she’ll travel with England to the World Cup this summer. She featured collegiately for the North Carolina Tar Heels from 2011-14 and featured in England with Liverpool from 2015-19, making 69 appearances and scoring twice.

Also starting in the recent preseason friendly against Texas A&M was Houston’s first selection in the NWSL College Draft, defender Ally Prisock from the University of Southern California.

Last Word: Houston slides down to eighth place

It’s so hard to write this, because I truly appreciate the valor of Houston and the underdog mentality that they have in the league. A lot of folks casted them out last year when they hired Pauw.

The same scenario is happening this year. Plenty of women’s soccer fans in the United States were unhappy to see a male being hired into Pauw’s old spot. However, Clarkson knows the organization inside and out and he’s already helping former Dash academy players get involved in the senior program. That’s what you want in U.S. Soccer — the development of Homegrown players.

If the MLS can do it, why can’t the NWSL?

Just like I wrote for the Orlando Pride, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Give Clarkson a year to get his team together and see what they can do. I truly hope that Houston proves me wrong with this selection.

 

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