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Ebony Salmon finds purpose in ‘proving people wrong’ with Dash

(Maria Lysaker/USA TODAY Sports)

It wasn’t long after arriving in Texas at the end of June that Ebony Salmon learned her new team, the Houston Dash, had never made the NWSL playoffs.

Two and a half months later, with two weeks left in the regular season, Houston is on track to make club history. Currently fourth in the NWSL standings, they need just one win in their two remaining games against OL Reign on Saturday and the Washington Spirit on Oct. 1 to clinch a playoff berth.

Salmon has been a catalyst for the Dash’s success, putting together a standout season that seemed unlikely for her halfway through the season. With Racing Louisville for the first nine games, Salmon played a total of 70 minutes under head coach Kim Björkegren despite leading the team with six goals last season.

Since joining the Dash via a trade on June 27, the 21-year-old has scored nine goals — over a quarter of Houston’s total — in 909 minutes across through 11 matches. She’s also made back-to-back NWSL Teams of the Month in July and August, and as of July 16 she’s outscored two teams and every player in the league to skyrocket to fifth in the Golden Boot race.

One of the teams she’s outscored is Louisville.

“I’ve obviously had to prove people wrong, and having that weight on my shoulders makes me perform,” Salmon told Just Women’s Sports.

What she’s learned about herself this year, as she’s balanced spending full games on Louisville’s bench to scoring at will with Houston, is that walking away isn’t an option. Her love of soccer will always motivate her to find a way back onto the field, even if at certain points this year she didn’t know when that time would come.

“If I wasn’t ready, I don’t think I would have had the start I did and scored the goals that I have, and the performances that I had,” Salmon said.

With the Dash, she’s also found confidence in playing with coaches and teammates who believe in her.

“Don’t let that one person make you think that you’re not good enough or you can’t do it because, as you’ve seen in my case, the next opportunity could be right around the corner,” she said. “One person might not think you’re the best player, and then the next person might think you’re the best in the world.”

Salmon’s success with the Dash has improved her case with the English women’s national team, for which she has one cap from February 2021. After being excluded from the 2022 Euro champions’ roster, she earned a call-up for friendlies against Austria and Luxembourg in early September.

At the end of a national team camp last September, England head coach Sarina Wiegman advised Salmon to work on her consistency. That became hard to do earlier this season when she wasn’t getting much playing time with Racing Louisville.

It didn’t take long into the 2022 season for Salmon to start considering a trade request. Before she could voice those thoughts, Louisville general manager James O’Connor, recognizing that Salmon wouldn’t be a part of their future plans, approached her with the same idea. On June 27, Louisville sent $150,000 in allocation money to Houston, with promises for more in 2023 as well as a performance-based incentive, in exchange for Salmon. That same day, Salmon signed a contract extension that will keep her in Houston through 2023.

With the Dash, Salmon not only exploded onto the scene, scoring a hat trick in just her third game, but she’s also maintained that level of play into the final stretch. In an open conversation at national team camp this month, Wiegman told Salmon she’s noticed improvements over the past year and gave her things to work on through the remainder of the season.

“The main thing was consistency,” Salmon said. “And I think I’m starting to find that now.”

Thinking about the Lionesses and the upcoming 2023 FIFA World Cup, however, will have to wait a few weeks.

“Within the next month and a half, I think my focus is completely on Houston and making playoffs, and then kind of going all the way in playoffs,” she said. “That’s what we want to do, that’s what everyone on the team wants to do, and I think we’ve seen that we’re capable of doing that.”

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