(Maria Lysaker/USA TODAY Sports)

The Houston Dash have found their stride. Over a month since finishing at the bottom of the Central Division standings in the NWSL Challenge Cup, and dropping their first regular season game against the first-place San Diego Wave, the Dash take a four-game unbeaten streak into Friday’s matchup with the Orlando Pride.

The results have all come under acting head coach Sarah Lowdon, who assumed the role after James Clarkson was suspended in late April based on initial findings in a joint investigation by the NWSL and NWSL Players’ Association.

During her three and a half weeks in charge, Lowdon has simply tried to “be what the team needs.” In some instances, that’s meant instilling positivity in the players; in others, it’s meant demanding a higher standard. Overall, she prioritizes a collaborative, open-door policy approach — if a player or staff member has a suggestion, she listens — and it’s led to two wins and two draws for the Dash.

“I think she’s done an amazing job,” said defender Ally Prisock. “She definitely didn’t sign up for this, but she’s taken the head coaching job and just run with it, really. I think she just does a really good job with communicating and she’s a really good leader, so I respect her a lot and I think she’s a great coach.”

This isn’t Lowdon’s first stint with the Dash. She rejoined the club in April after serving as an assistant coach from 2014-16. In between, the Newcastle, England native and former McNeese State midfielder was a volunteer assistant coach with the Penn State women’s soccer team.

When Lowdon first took over as acting head coach, she was focused on maintaining control as she adjusted to the new responsibilities. Now that she has a clearer understanding of her role and ability to delegate, she’s developed more of a routine.

“It’s been a transition, for sure,” Lowdon said. “It’s been obviously kind of a whirlwind, but I think in the end, I’m just trying to be here for the players and the staff and give them what they need to be successful. And that’s kind of what I’ve tried to do, is just be that person that they can come to.”

“It was a very difficult role for her to step into, but she stepped up to the plate and she’s been brilliant,” star forward Rachel Daly said after scoring the equalizer in Houston’s 1-1 draw with the North Carolina Courage on Sunday. “We couldn’t have asked for any more from her and the staff.”

On the field, Lowdon has placed a heavy emphasis on team defense, running film sessions in training to get their three-player backline on the same page. She’s preached the value of effort over talent, and the players have bought in. With goalkeeper Jane Campbell as the last line of defense, Houston is tied for the NWSL lead with three goals against in five games.

When the Dash host the Pride on Friday, it will be just their third home contest after three straight games on the road. Spending over two weeks away from home instilled a resilient attitude within the group that’s now translating into results.

After a disappointing finish in 2021, when the Dash failed to make their first NWSL playoff appearance with a 1-0 loss on the last day of the regular season, Lowdon is working to right the ship and infuse the team with a new energy.

“In terms of the dirty work, we’ve kind of built this gritty identity, but at the end of the day it’s just a concept,” Lowdon said. “We’re trying to define what that actually looks like on the field … We’ve kind of had to manufacture our mentality sometimes. At the end of the day, we’ve doubled our talent and it’s paying off.”

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.