Bryan Byerly/ISI Photos

When COVID-19 upended the 2020 NWSL season before it even began, the Houston Dash were little more than a blip on everyone’s radar. They had finished the season prior with a 7-5-12 record and in seventh place in the table with only 26 points. 

Subsequently, when the first-ever Challenge Cup was announced in June, the Dash were given +1,000 odds to win the tournament (meaning you’d win $1,000 for every $100 bet). Only Sky Blue and Orlando had worse odds, and the Pride were DQ’d before the tournament began due to an outbreak of COVID on the team. 

The Dash had essentially been counted out before they ever even took the pitch. They proceeded to then stun the world by winning their first NWSL hardware, cruising through the preliminary round and knockout tournament before defeating the Chicago Red Stars 2-0 in the final.

“Even making it to the finals and rewriting a lot of the stigma that’s around the Dash, we still feel like there’s so much to do and that there’s always going to be people that think we just got here by happenstance,” Shea Groom told JWS ahead of the title game.

Standout Challenge Cup performances from players like Groom, Kristie Mewis, and Rachel Daly put the league on notice, but the Dash weren’t done just yet. 

First, they re-signed Mewis, Daly, and Groom to three-year contract extensions, as well as goalkeeper Jane Campbell to a one-year contract extension, locking down their top talent for the foreseeable future. 

Then, Houston’s coronation as a top-of-the-table squad continued through the NWSL Fall Series, where the Dash defeated the North Carolina Courage once and the Orlando Pride twice to go 3-1 in the four-game stint and finish in second. Their only loss came at the hands of the Courage, who narrowly defeated Houston 4-3 in the first game of the series.

Ultimately, the Dash finished 2020 with a 7-3-1 record, a winning percentage (64%) that more than doubled their 2019 efforts (29%).

In the months following the Fall Series, Kristie Mewis, Sophie Schmidt, Nichelle Prince, Allysha Chapman, Rachel Daly, and Jane Campbell each received national team call-ups from their respective countries, representing the United States, England, and Canada. During this time, Sophie Schmidt also signed a contract extension, keeping her in Houston through 2023. 

Houston’s impressive showing in the Challenge Cup and Fall Series has left many wondering if the Dash are ready for their encore — one that begins with a defense of their Challenge Cup title this April.

The tournament kicks off with a nationally-televised rematch of last year’s final between the Red Stars and the Dash, on CBS Sports Network April 9th (8:30 p.m. EST).

Ahead of the 2021 NWSL season, several members of Houston’s roster have shone on the international stage. Kristie Mewis has scored three goals for the US in their last six matches. Jane Campbell has likewise recorded valuable minutes with the USWNT, earning the start in net for both a friendly and a SheBelieves Cup match and notching two clean sheets in the process.

Meanwhile, Dash captain Rachel Daly headed abroad to play for West Ham United of the FA Women’s Super League, where she recorded five goals in twelve matches played before leaving the club in December. 

With a locked-in, experienced core and a refreshed sense of confidence in hand, the Dash certainly seem prepared to defy the odds again in 2021. They enter the Challenge Cup as members of the Western group, joined by the Chicago Red Stars, the OL Reign, Kansas City NWSL, and the Portland Thorns. And they’ve already issued an on-brand message to their competition: “Come and Take It.” 

In an interview for The SLICE, a YouTube series released by the Dash during the offseason, several players shared their excitement for the upcoming season.

“Everybody kind of sees this year as another chance to prove ourselves,” said forward Veronica Latkso. 

“I think that we still have a chip on our shoulder, because a lot of people see our success last season and see it more as a fluke rather than a precedent for the Dash. I think it’s exciting to be able to be like ‘Hey, no, we’re ready to prove people wrong again and show that we’re not that same old Dash from years past, we’re the same old Dash from last year, and for years to come that’s what we’re going to be.’”

If what Latsko says is true, and “the same old Dash from last year” make a reappearance, well, there’s a good chance we’ll see some hardware making its way to Houston again in 2021. 

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