BRYAN BYERLY/ISI PHOTOS

Rachel Daly plays for both the Houston Dash of the NWSL and the English national team. She spoke with Just Women’s Sports about the ongoing NWSL Challenge Cup, what gives the Dash their mental edge, and what she expects from the club the rest of the way. 

Overall, how has your experience been living in a bubble and playing games under these conditions? 

We haven’t left our hotel other than to go to training, which is hard, but I think we’ve managed it quite well. We play ping pong tournaments. I’ve learned how to juggle. We play Mario Kart. Just things you wouldn’t do a whole lot of if you were at home. I think it’s a good time obviously for the team to get to know each other on a deeper level as well. It’s quite a unique experience.

As far as the games, we started off really well. We were disappointed obviously to tie the first game. I think we dominated that whole game, it just didn’t go our way at the end. The OL Reign game was good for us and was a massive confidence boost for the team. I think we needed that. I think we actually played really well. It was good for our team to get a good win and the media started to recognize us for who we are versus our old Dash ways. I think that was positive. Then, we took a bit of a hit and lost to Sky Blue, but some players were rotated. I think it’s obviously hard in tournaments to manage everyone’s game loads and things like that. It was a really disappointing result for us, but we still have a lot to look forward to.

What’s surprised you about the quality of play so far? 

I think what’s been exciting about us is obviously the amount of goals we scored. Five in the first two games is quite a big deal for us. We’ve never scored that many goals in the past in two games, but we’ve been pushing this past month or so in preseason on getting people in the box and creating scoring chances.

I think soccer games are quite tight all over, really. When you watch MLS now, their games are nil-nil, one-nil. Even the Premier League in the first week, I think there were about eight nil-nil games. I think it’s just getting that fatigue out of your body when you’re in quarantine and you can’t really train. You come into preseason, you’re only playing against each other. The shock of playing against another team and trying to get up to speed with the level of play again has been tough.

How has it been playing without fans?

You know what? I honestly don’t even notice it to be honest. At first I felt it was going to be a bit weird, having no sound, whatever. I think once you get out there, I think the only thing you’re thinking about is football.

You’re coming off a good year last year and a successful semi final World Cup run with England. Now you’re a co captain of the Dash. What does all that mean to you and how have you built off that momentum during the tournament?

It’s obviously been a long year of not playing since the off season last year. For me, this was just about trying to get through this tournament and get a positive result. Getting to the semifinal, getting to the final, that’s obviously something we’re pushing for. I think if I can help the team in any way I can, obviously for me that’s important. Dash has been a big part of my life for the past five years. The club means a lot to me, so I think every time I step out on that field, I think it’s more of a proud moment too versus just playing football, going out, and enjoying yourself. I’m actually playing to represent a club that I have loved for the past five years.

You’ve talked about this “do or die” Dash mentality elsewhere and how the team is often seen as an underdog. Can you speak to that idea?

Yes, I think we always have been an underdog, but we’ve brought that on ourselves. We’ve never performed to the level we should have. We’ve always come in the league and been sixth, seventh, eighth. We’ve never ever made the playoffs. That’s through our own fault. I think for us this year it was all about earning respect and gaining respect from the opposition, from the media, from the fans, and I think that attention came to us a little bit after the Reign game, which was nice.

For us, it is a do or die attitude. We had a lack of structure these past few years, but now we’ve actually got a really good quality team. We’ve got players that are new this year, players that have come back from last year, and the previous years. Different people, different personalities, different ability levels. I think that’s something that we capitalize on. There’s also the fact that you don’t have a US national team player on our team. That boosts our team a little bit more to push on, do well, and perform without that. I think we’re the only team in the league that doesn’t have one. That’s a big thing for us. We just want to go out in this tournament and show people what we can do and what we are capable of.

What are your expectations for the remainder of the tournament?

We want to win. We go out every game, we want to win every game. Obviously, it’s a bit of a weird one because everyone makes the knockout round, so people can rest and whatever, but I think we’ve gone in with the attitude every game to win. That’s not changed and that’s not going to change. Hopefully, we get a good draw in the quarters and push on. Our ultimate goal is to be in the final.