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‘We thrive off being the underdog’: The Houston Dash are surging

Bryan Byerly/ISI Photos/Getty Images

According to head coach James Clarkson, there was no specific factor that lifted the Houston Dash into their late-season form.

Heading into Wednesday’s match against Kansas City on a three-game win streak, their longest in the regular season since May/June 2014, Clarkson says it was only a matter of time until Houston was able to click into gear.

“I’m not surprised by it,” he said. “I see them every day and I know what they’re capable of. I’ve seen it in games where we haven’t scored or haven’t kept our lead, but to see this consistency come out is outstanding.”

No. 2 OL Reign is the only team Houston has lost to in their 10 matches since Aug. 1. Winning 3-2 over the top-ranked Portland Thorns on Oct. 6 was validation for the Dash, who refused to let up on Sunday, decisively beating another of the league’s top teams, the North Carolina Courage, 4-1.

Earning three points in Sunday’s win, Clarkson called the triumph a “six-pointer,” as the 2020 Challenge Cup champions moved from fourth to tie with the Courage for third – the highest Houston has ever placed in the final third of the season.

Before Aug. 1, the orange only won five of their 11 matches. Now, they’re one game away from breaking a franchise record for most wins in a season (10).

“We thrive off being the underdog, underrated, whatever you could call it,” said forward Shea Groom. “But this team works hard and I think we can run anyone off of the field, and if we’re having a good day, we’re going to keep putting goals in the back of the net.

“It’s coming together. I think it’s just been a matter of time.”

With three games left before the postseason, Houston isn’t guaranteed playoffs yet, but claiming one of the six spots shouldn’t be a problem if they continue their unbeaten streak.

Forward Rachel Daly has led the charge in scoring this season with nine goals, four of those coming in Houston’s most recent two games, which were also her first two matches back after her father’s passing. As of Sunday, she sits tied at the top of the scoring leaderboard with Bethany Balcer (OL Reign) and Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit), and is just one goal away from her own single-season record.

Brianna Visalli has been an up-and-coming star for the Dash, proving her worth when she was named to the starting 11 against Tigres UANL Feminil in a September friendly while international players were away. The midfielder scored in the game and has been making an impact against NWSL competition ever since, slotting one in against Louisville on Sept. 26 and another, as well as an assist, on Sunday.

“She’s scoring goals and she’s creating goals,” said Clarkson. “That’s exactly what we want from the midfield and she’s winning it back, so she thoroughly deserves to be on the team with the way that she’s performing.”

With a full (and healthy) squad, the Dash know they’re in good shape for their final matches of the season against Kansas City, Portland Thorns, and the Washington Spirit on Oct. 31.

After winning last year’s Challenge Cup, the team wanted to prove they weren’t a one-hit wonder. It may have taken them until the last third of the season, but now it’s safe to say: the Dash seem here to stay.