After finishing the 2022 Challenge Cup tied with the most losses out of all the NWSL clubs, Houston Dash looked like it was heading towards a decline. With Maria Sanchez going from Mexico to Houston, there was a lot of hype heading into the 2022 season as she was now paired with Rachel Daly and Nichelle Prince. If a 2-0 win on the road at Providence Park did not convince the league that the Dash were back, a 5-0 trouncing of a determined Orlando Pride side without a doubt should. In Daly's final match before she leaves for international duty with England, Daly scored one of the potential goals of the season with a header off a long ball from Maria Sanchez.
Just a few weeks ago many thought the Houston Dash frontline needed to figure it out, but now Sarah Lowdon is leading this team to a five-game unbeaten streak including 11 goals in those contests. Lowdon has figured out how to be a head coach of an NWSL club on the fly with the sudden suspension of James Clarkson and seeing the chemistry that the midfield and the forwards possess, the ceiling essentially looks limitless. The Dash jumped up to second in the NWSL table and now possesses the best goal differential despite how rocky of a road the preseason tournament was for Houston.
Following the win, Daly expressed how she felt, stating, "Unbelievable. I think that was the best we’ve ever played, collectively." Daly moves on to the England National team before preparing for the 2022 UEFA Women’s European Championships. The Harrogate native has the ability to single-handedly change a game with her effort and relentlessness up top demonstrated in her goal just before the half against the North Carolina Courage a few weeks ago.
Lowden spoke about the team having to stay grounded and humble after a win that would provide lots of praise, stating, "I just want to say this, it's really important not to get drunk off the praise because you'll just be hungover by the criticism."
The Dash are one of three clubs in the NWSL so far this season to have only lost one match. With the San Diego Wave dropping points in two consecutive matches, teams are beginning to gain ground on a club that was red-hot coming out of the gate. With a game in hand over the Wave, Houston is now just one point behind the San Diego Wave at the top of the table after a scoreless draw against a struggling Angel City FC side on the road. Since coming over from Liga MX Femenil, Maria Sanchez has lived up to all the hype and then some. Her crosses, and impact in the Houston Dash have kept this team afloat during moments when the club was on the verge of sinking.
The Dash were not only experiencing on-the-field issues but the off-the-field drama as well amid the investigation and the suspension of their long-time head coach James Clarkson. The club has not made many comments on the matter following the news dropping in the final days of April. Rumors of current and historic complaints of discrimination, harassment, and abuse spread to the NWSL and the NWSLPA quickly, sparking an investigation in order to get down to the truth. Since the news was announced, the Dash have rebounded in the best way possible, winning three out of their last five matches, including a shutout performance against NWSL powerhouse, Portland Thorns.
Lowden should be rewarded for the job she is doing at the moment with this Dash team that looked like it had no life heading out of the preseason tournament. The talent has always been there, and while some will say the competition has not been the best, the Thorns' victory at one of the most difficult places to play crushes that idea. Changing roles from an assistant to a head coach in the middle of a season that has not gone their way so far is not an easy task to take on. Lowden was able to take control of her new position quickly, and demand the best out of her players. There is no new news on Clarkson and his suspension length status, but right now, the Dash should not rush or panic in any way because everything seems to be in good hands.
The international window is going to hurt the Dash, but in reality, it is going to have an effect on everybody. A 0-0 draw against a side trying to end a two-game skid without their most influential player up top is about the best the Dash could have done given the circumstances. Next up for Houston is its weekend matchup against the Portland Thorns. What the table looks like during the first few months never ends up identical to the end of the season. Even the Washington Spirit who are able to conclude one of the most daunting stretches of soccer, still have plenty of time to repeat as NWSL champions.
The combination of Prince and Sanchez up top exposed the youth of the Pride backline, but against a team of more quality, and fewer injuries, the space will be limited. Watching the Dash on the pitch at the moment is a thing of beauty, and as the club ascends up the standings, the fact that they sat at the bottom of their Challenge Cup division tends to be forgotten. The path that Houston has embarked on during this season is not the most ideal for any NWSL club, but nevertheless, the Dash showed their resiliency to find a way to play soccer to the best of their ability.