The Houston Dash held their first-ever training session Monday at Houston Sports Park (HSP). In addition to head coach Randy Waldrum, in attendance for the first practice was club president Chris Canetti, managing director Brian Ching, more than a handful of Dash staff, and 32 women’s pro soccer players in new Dash training kits.
Waldrum said the 32 players at practice were the fifteen who have already signed for the club and the seventeen trialists who are vying for a spot on the NWSL’s first expansion team. The full list of trialists has not been made available, but Waldrum mentioned during the March 3 Keeper Notes WoSo podcast that the group includes five players from the open tryouts held February 15-16.
The preseason roster must be reduced to 25 in a week’s time, according to Waldrum. In early April, the final roster will consist of just 20 players.
Notably absent from the practice were three of the Dash’s allocated national team players — defender Whitney Engen (USA), midfielder Meghan Klingenberg (USA) and goalkeeper Erin McLeod (CAN). All three started for their respective national teams Monday, as the USA lost 5-3 to Denmark in the Algarve Cup, and Canada lost 2-0 to England in the Cyprus Cup.
Sesselmann is not the only Dash player who recently picked up an injury — Japanese defender Aya Sameshima suffered a meniscus tear in her right knee before the Algarve Cup. Sameshima is in Houston and was on the sidelines at HSP for the first practice. Waldrum said she received medical treatment in Japan and has been rehabbing, but that the Dash will not be making a decision on further treatment for another seven to ten days.
The healthy players at Monday’s training kicked off preseason with the dreaded Beep Test. After the fitness test was over, players were split into groups to work on technical drills.
After more than a half hour of quick movement drills, the cones were cleared away and four teams were formed to play two scrimmages. The players were limited to a more confined pitch and to how many touches they had on the ball. Ella Masar, the forward selected from the Chicago Red Stars in the NWSL expansion draft, was bold enough to attempt a bicycle kick, but could not time her shot correctly. She went on, however, to score a beautiful header during the final drill, which was much faster-paced and involved constant changes of pairings attacking the goal from short range.
As most players were not playing with other clubs during the long NWSL offseason, there were obvious signs of rust and first-day jitters. But there were also solid performances from top draft pick Kealia Ohai, Mexican national team midfielder Teresa Noyola and rookie defender Marissa Diggs, all of whom scored in the scrimmage or last shooting drill.
At the conclusion of the session, the players huddled together to officially end practice with a team chant. It was an ordinary soccer moment, but at the same time, it was also another historic moment for the Houston Dash.
Coach Waldrum on the first Dash practice:
“Typical first day jitters … Everybody’s trying to prove themselves all in one practice, and one day. The energy and the enthusiasm was great, exactly what I expected out of the group. When we put the team together, one of the things that Brian [Ching] and I were clear on with our vision of the team: We really wanted to focus not only on the talent, because obviously every team needs talent, but the character of the kind of players, the mentality of the players that we have, those competitive players … And we really did a good job, and I thought we saw that today. They worked hard in everything we got them to do.”