October 13, 2022
by Grant Wiedenfeld
Tomorrow the Houston Dash will play the first playoff game in club history. For rookie Ryan Gareis, the only Dash draft pick of 2022, “it means so much to be a part of this team … I know it means a ton to the girls have been here and the girls who have left their legacy at this club. It has taken every single one of us to get to where we are … the help of our community, our coaching staff, and everyone in Houston.” Already the Dash have sold more than 17,000 tickets for the game vs. Kansas City, far more than the largest attendance for a Houston NWSL home game (13,025 in 2015, right after the Women’s World Cup).
At the beginning of the year, few would have expected the fourth-round draft pick out of South Carolina to be playing a major role in the home stretch of the season. “She was a player I could see having top potential,” says interim Dash head coach Juan Carlos Amorós. “When I got to training [in mid-July], her commitment, her attitude, her performances at training were outstanding. That’s why she got her first start that week against Chicago.”
In that game on July 16, Houston defeated Chicago 4–1 behind Ebony Salmon’s first NWSL hat trick. Gareis, a Naperville, Illinois native facing her hometown team, recorded an assist and three shots on goal in 74 minutes on the field.
The key to Gareis’ growth has been her hunger to learn, without having any expectations. “My goal was to try to learn as much as possible,” the rookie said of her mindset coming into her first professional season. “Getting into a whole new environment, and with the new coaching staff and new players, you are able to learn so much. I didn’t have a lot of expectations when it came to playing time, because it wasn’t something I could control. But what I could control was how I tried to be a student of the game and learn from everyone around me.”
That “whole new environment” also meant adopting a new number with her new club, since her favorite number 22 was already in use by striker Michelle Alozie. The admittedly superstitious Gareis wears #21 for the Dash, conceding that “I liked that 21 was close [to 22], but I also took the new number as a sign of a new era in my career. Time to switch it up, and I have really liked it.”
Another big change for Gareis came when Amorós and first assistant coach Sarah Lowdon opted to put her and her pure left foot into a new position: left back. Before the acquisition of defender Caprice Dydasco from Gotham FC, the club needed someone to step in for Allysha Chapman when she out of concussion protocol in mid-August. So Gareis started at left back against Racing Louisville on August 12. “I’m very much an attacking-minded player, so I’m trying to incorporate that into the left back position,” she asserts. “I want to be more dangerous on both sides of the ball now, rather than just an offensive mindset.”
She credits the Dash coaches and her fellow players for helping integrate her into the team and adapt to the new position. “At practice veteran girls were staying back to help me on certain things, and I just thought that meant so much because they were investing in me,” she explained. “I appreciate that more than they’ll ever know. Even though we may only have three months of a season together, they were willing to help me grow, knowing that I was a rookie.”
The time spent with the club’s veterans paid off, as evidenced by her assist on Marisa Viggiano’s goal in the Dash’s regular-season finale in Washington, DC. “Nichelle Prince did a great job of pressing and winning the ball back in their half,” Gareis recalls. “I was working on that defensive positioning as left wing, trying to stay tucked in because it’s harder for teams to get to get through us when we’re more compact. I knew the majority of our players would be on the right side and I heard Marisa screaming for the ball. So I just tried to switch the point again, knowing that’s where we had numbers.”
Viggiano described the end of the play as if it had been pre-planned. “Ryan was able to switch it out to me. I was able to find myself up on the right side in the box. It’s something that I was practicing all week, that exact shot. it was nice when it happens in a game, and it goes back in the net.” Viggiano’s goal gave the Dash a 1-0 lead against the Washington Spirit. Ultimately, Houston won the game 2-1.
— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) October 1, 2022
Amorós praised the mentality that led Gareis to that key assist. “She’s an example of what rookies should be. She doesn’t stop working, she’s a sponge to learning, she’s open to positive criticism, she tries to help in everything she can, she tries to get better in everything she does, she does the extra training. She’s doing unbelievable work and it’s showing when she comes on the pitch.”
Gareis’ favorite sports movie stresses that type of work in practice. “Hustle with Adam Sandler — I’ve already watched it three times,” she admits. “It showcases all the work behind the scenes, which I think in a lot of sports movies doesn’t show as much as the glory and the games. Hustle really depicts how hard athletes at this level work. It’s super motivating and based on a true story, and I really like that.”
Her other motivation is food. “I knew that Houston would have good tacos, but I had birria tacos for the first time ever, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is amazing!’ ” she says with wide eyes. “Everything that I’ve had in Houston has really exceeded my expectations, because I am a foodie. So it’s a fun place to be.”
“Hot sauce” is the game plan against quarterfinal opponent Kansas City, who defeated the Dash 2-1 when they last played here in July. The one Dash goal originated from the foot of Gareis, who subbed in late and sent in a cross that a Current defender misdirected into her own net.
“When I came into that game, the coaching staff told me that we needed some energy and a spark, anything to change our momentum. We were behind in that game,” she remembers. “What I learned from that game is, if we come out like that in the first five minutes, and try to continue that throughout the whole game, we will be a hard team to beat.”
Whether she starts the Dash’s first-ever playoff game Sunday, comes off the bench, or simply cheers on her teammates, Ryan Gareis has brought relentless passion to Houston in her first season.