Photo by Gia Quilap/Keeper Notes
by Hal Kaiser
With ten days to go until the 2020 NWSL College Draft, the Houston Dash have announced a trade with the Chicago Red Stars that sees long-time Dash stalwart Kealia Ohai leave the team for centerback Katie Naughton and the 18th overall pick in the draft.
Ohai was the last member of the inaugural 2014 Dash who had contiguous service with the team — goalkeeper Bianca Henninger and defender Ari Romero both played for the 2014 Dash as well but had periods away from the team. Selected with the second overall pick of the 2014 NWSL College Draft, Ohai was also the first draft pick in the history of the team.
During her time with the Dash, the forward evolved from a fresh-faced rookie to “Captain Kea,” captain of the team and all-time leader in goals scored, assists and minutes played. Henninger, who played with Ohai during each of her six seasons in Houston commented on this transition last season, “That’s been one of the things I’ve been most proud of one of Kea’s friends on this team, seeing how much she’s grown and how much she’s become a leader when that wasn’t necessarily something had to do but she really stepped in for us.”
Ohai’s best season came in 2016 when she finished as joint lead in goals scored in the league with Lynn Williams with 11 goals (Williams earned the Golden Boot award on the assists tiebreaker). She tore her ACL the following season after just ten games, returning in 2018 but never quite finding the same form she had during that 2016 year.
Sources indicate that Ohai was interested in pursuing new opportunities outside of Houston and that Chicago was top of her list given the proximity to fiancé JJ Watt’s home state. With the Dash holding an abundance of attacking options in Sofia Huerta, Rachel Daly, Nichelle Prince, Veronica Latsko and others, they were willing to grant her wish.
In return, the Dash receive badly needed help on the backline in the form of Naughton, a player that has been a starter for the Red Stars since her second season in the league and who started in the NWSL Championship last year. In addition, the Dash add a second round pick (18th overall) to try and continue to improve a team that is still seeking its first ever playoff appearance.