The Houston Dash wrapped up NWSL Challenge Cup play last Sunday, closing out the tournament with a 1-1 draw against Portland Thorns FC, who will be playing in the Challenge Cup Final this weekend. The Dash finished the 2021 Challenge Cup with a record of 1-0-3. Despite not defending their 2020 title, the results of this tournament prove just how far the Dash have come in recent years.
Only three NWSL teams went unbeaten in this year’s Challenge Cup: Portland Thorns FC, NJ/NY Gotham FC and the Houston Dash. Portland and Gotham will face off in the final this weekend, and though the Dash would much rather be playing in the final themselves, their performance and attitude as a team in this year’s Challenge Cup has solidified their new identity.
“We came into the game wanting to beat Portland. We want to show them that we should be in the final,” defender Allysha Chapman said in the post-match conference.
The Dash played to win in their final match despite knowing they wouldn’t advance in the tournament. Despite Groom scoring her first goal of 2021 to put them ahead in the first half, Portland was able to equalize in the 77th minute to split the points. It left the team feeling unsatisfied at the final whistle.
“A couple years ago we would be celebrating [the result],” midfielder Shea Groom said in a post-match press conference about their 1-1 draw with Portland. “Everyone came into the huddle mad that it felt like a loss.”
Head coach James Clarkson echoed the sentiment post-match saying, “The players all feel we’ve let one get away there, and we should have won the game. While I don’t like dropping points – I want to win every game – so did they. To see that reaction from them is fantastic.”
The underdog mentality is a thing of the past for the Houston Dash. The squad held their own not only in the 2020 Challenge Cup, but also in the fall series that followed and now in this year’s version of the tournament. They have become a team that is difficult to play against, and one that will make you fight for every single point.
“It’s natural progression. All the credit goes to the players – they've got us in this situation,” Clarkson expressed.
From captains Rachel Daly and Jane Campbell to last year’s newcomers Shea Groom and Katie Naughton, the team overall has developed a special mentality of who the Houston Dash are and what they strive to be. It’s what the world saw in last year’s tournament and what the Dash hope to show every single time they show up on the pitch.
“I think our team knows that we can hang with the best teams in this league and on any given day, we can beat anybody,” Groom stated. “We're ready to win this league quite frankly. That's our goal.”
The Houston Dash open up the NWSL regular season on the road at NJ/NY Gotham FC on Saturday, May 15.