After six seasons with the Houston Dash, forward Kealia Ohai has been traded to the Chicago Red Stars ahead of the 2020 season. As the club’s first ever draft pick in 2014, Ohai has made her mark as a Houston Dash player. However, a new opportunity awaits Ohai in Chicago.
In a video released on Ohai’s Instagram after the announcement, she explained to the fans and the city of Houston: “My goal is to be the very best player I can possibly be, and I feel like in order for that to happen I need a new environment.”
Ohai approached head coach James Clarkson during the offseason and asked him to explore possible trade options, and in a conference call with reporters, Clarkson admitted it came as a bit of a surprise.
“I want to thank Kealia for everything that she’s done for the Dash. She’s been incredible for the club over the years,” Clarkson told reporters. “It was a little bit out of the blue; in the offseason we were approached to maybe consider looking at trades, but when you evaluate and look at our stats from last year, we need to strengthen the squad. As this evolved, we had an opportunity to get Katie Naughton, who will come in and help us in the back line, give us some extra strength and depth, and really help try to push us forward and improve and get better.”
In her video statement, Ohai voiced her love for the city of Houston and for Dash fans, and expressed appreciation to the club for its support through this process.
“Thank you to all the Houston Dash fans. You guys have been so supportive,” she said, before continuing, “I really appreciate the Dash’s support through the entire process and I will always consider Houston home.”
As Ohai departs, defender Katie Naughton joins the Dash ahead of the new season. Clarkson brought up during his conference call with reporters how defense is a key focus in 2020 because of the amount of goals the team allowed last season.
Naughton brings plenty of experience to the Dash defense. She was drafted by the Red Stars in the 2016 NWSL draft, and has experience playing in Australia's W-League with Canberra United and Perth Glory. Naughton also boasts of US Youth National Team experience, spending time with the U-17, U-20, and most recently U-23 levels.
“[Naughton]’s played in the postseason and played in the final so she brings a lot of experience,” Clarkson said on the conference call. “She really adds strength to our backline.”
The move, if anything, should not be a complete shock. Clarkson has work to do before the Dash step onto the field for the new season. The team conceded 36 goals in the 2019 season, the second-most goals allowed across the league.
“We conceded too many goals, and I think historically that’s been an issue for the Dash throughout the whole time, and we’ve got to look to try to strengthen it,” the coach said.
Naughton will join a defensive group led by center back Amber Brooks and goalkeeper Jane Campbell, along with promising young players like center back Ally Prisock, giving Clarkson some strong building blocks with which to solidify things at the back. The coach told reporters this trade was just the first step in a larger plan.
“There’s a longer-term plan to this … We’re negotiating with a couple of other players to help us strengthen there as well,” he said. “I think this can help Amber – and Ally as well – by adding some extra experience overall to help improve us. With Jane back there as well, I think we’ve got the makings of it; we’ve just got to add a couple of pieces to strengthen it.”
As the Dash enter their seventh season, Clarkson doesn’t shy away from pointing at the postseason as Goal No. 1. The frontline isn’t the biggest problem; there is depth on the front line varying from Rachel Daly to Veronica Latsko. The most important additions will be the ones that are able to solidify the team’s defense.
“We are working on building a playoff roster,” Clarkson told HoustonDashSoccer.com. “We must improve defensively and this helps our progression and development.”
The Houston Dash look to make playoffs for the first time in club history this year, and adding Katie Naughton to the back line is the beginning of what Clarkson has in mind to shape his team up for the season.