by Grant Wiedenfeld
The Houston Dash continue the NWSL Fall Series with their first game at BBVA Stadium in a year when they host Orlando Pride tomorrow at 7:30 pm. Here are a few Dash updates heading into this match:
Canadian defender Allysha Chapman will not be eligible for the Orlando game owing to a red card earned the 4-3 loss to North Carolina last weekend, Houston’s first Fall Series match. Head coach James Clarkson called Chapman “the best 1v1 defender in the league,” which makes her absence significant to the defense that set a club record of 344 minutes without allowing a goal during this summer’s Challenge Cup. As of Thursday, the decision on a replacement had not yet been made. “We are looking at a couple of options,” Clarkson said. “It depends on training tonight, and if Megan Oyster [who has been recovering from a rib injury] is fit.” Converting a midfield player to play right back is one option under consideration.
The club announced earlier this week that one unnamed Dash player tested positive for Covid-19, and has been isolated following league protocols. The rest of the team tested negative. “She’s disappointed that she’s let the team down,” but Clarkson dissuaded her from putting all the blame on herself. “These things happen,” he explained. “We’ve been aware of the risks of everything since the first week of preseason training.” Safety protocols meant that the Dash conducted their scouting of Orlando, this weekend’s opponent, via Zoom on Thursday. The team’s priority is “to make sure she’s well and healthy, and that the rest of the team is well and healthy,” Clarkson reiterated.
Earlier this month, the Dash signed three players to short-term contracts for the Fall Series, replacing players currently injured and on loan: defender Lauren Silver (who plays with Kayla McCoy on the Jamaican national team), midfielder Jaci Jones, and forward Shaina Ashouri. Clarkson said that the new additions “have fitted in well,” despite disruptions in training schedules making it difficult to develop a normal “rhythm” with the team. The NWSL Fall Series will give them the opportunity for an extended look with the club.
Second-year player CeCe Kizer signed a new two-year contract with Houston and promptly went on loan to Koboltn in Norway for the remainder of the year. Clarkson said the team discussed it and considered the loan “an opportunity for her to get seven to nine competitive games in.” She would have likely seen less time in the four-game fall series as a substitute. “We’ve got huge hopes for CeCe,” Clarkson said. Aside from more game experience, the coach believes that travelling and being in a foreign country will also help “accelerate her development.” He added, “We want her to become a breakout player for us. We expect her to hit the ground running” when she returns for the spring NWSL preseason. KeeperNotes.com profiled CeCe during her rookie season in 2019.
Orlando, the Dash opponent for tomorrow, played North Carolina to a 0-0 draw last Saturday, the Pride’s first appearance in nearly a year after missing the Challenge Cup. “They’ve pretty much got a new roster,” said Clarkson, referring to a number of offseason changes and loans this fall. Nevertheless, “they’ve still got a good core,” he said of Marta and several players from USWNT World Cup squads, namely Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger, and Sydney Leroux. “The result in North Carolina surely gave them a lot of confidence,” said the Dash head coach. “We fully expect a competitive game on Saturday.”
Limited tickets are available for the match at BBVA Stadium in Houston tomorrow night. A maximum of 3,000 fans will be dispersed around the upper deck of the 22,000-seat stadium. All fans must wear masks and enter through specific gates at assigned times; concessions will also be delivered to fans seats to minimize contact. Review all stadium protocols here.
Fans can watch the Twitch broadcast of the Houston-Orlando game for free, both in the USA and internationally beginning at 7:30 pm CT. The Phoenix on Westheimer will show the game on at least one screen tomorrow night — masks required and social distancing rules are in effect.
Be sure to check out the latest episode of the #CityOfSoccer Dash/Dynamo podcast. This week’s Dash guest is Sophie Schmidt, who scored the game-winning goal in the Challenge Cup final.