Houston Dash, NWSL Challenge Cup's unappreciated but undisputed champion

The Houston Dash was the NWSL's forgotten team.

It was the league's first expansion team but has never made the playoffs in six league seasons.

It barely topped average attendance of more than 4,000 fans a game in 2019, getting little bump from the Women's World Cup excitement while other teams shattered club attendance records.

That was no surprise -- Houston was the only NWSL team with no player on the U.S. championship team.

Dash players Morgan Brian, Meghan Klingenberg and Carli Lloyd played for the USA when it won the 2015 World Cup but were later traded. The low point came in 2018 when Christen Press returned to Sweden rather than accept a trade to Houston. (She ended up in Utah later in the year.)

All that is behind the Dash now.

In a stunning turn of events, Houston won the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup -- and did so in convincing fashion, completing its run to the title on Sunday with a 2-0 win over the Chicago Stars.

“It wasn’t luck," said English striker Rachel Daly, the tournament MVP. "It wasn’t fluke. We comfortably won that game. We’ve comfortably won a lot of games.”

The Dash was the only higher seed to win a game in the knockout stage and finished as the tournament's highest-scoring team and didn't allow a goal in its final three games.

July 26 in Sandy, Utah
Houston 2 Chicago 0. Goal: Schmidt pen. 5; Groom (Daly) 90+1.
Houston -- Campbell, Hanson, Oyster, Naughton, Chapman, Groom, Mewis (Kizer 29), Schmidt, Visalli (Latsko 78), Daly, Prince (Simon 87).
Chicago -- Naeher, Ertz, Sharples (Goralski 68), St. Georges (Bingham 89), Gorden, DiBernardo, Colaprico, Watt, Hill, K.Johnson (Morse 79), McCaskill (Doniak 78).

Shea Groom and Daly finished as the tournament's top scorers with three goals apiece -- Daly won the Golden Boot by virtue of her assist on Groom's insurance goal -- but Kristie Mewis personified the Dash's perseverance.

Mewis, the older sister of U.S. national team star Sam Mewis, came to Houston in a trade from Chicago in August 2017 -- nine days after she was traded from Washington to the Red Stars. Houston was Mewis' sixth team in five seasons, but she missed almost a full year when she tore her ACL in May 2018. Mewis, who has also spent time at teams in Japan, Australia and Germany, played well enough in 2019 that she was called in for the national team's ID camp under new coach Vlatko Andonovski, who was her coach at FC Kansas City in 2013 when she entered the NWSL and she earned the first of her 15 caps for the USA.

Mewis's dribbling caused problems throughout the Challenge Cup. In the fifth of the final, she took a pass from Daly, went right at Chicago's inexperienced outside back, Kayla Sharples, and was taken down for the penalty kick Sophie Schmidt converted for the game's first goal. Mewis was one of five Dash players who started all seven games in Utah, but she had to leave the game midway through the the first half, reduced to tears with a hamstring injury.

Dash starters:
Jane Campbell, 25 (signed out of Stanford Univ. in 2017)
Haley Hanson, 23 (signed out of Nebraska Univ. in 2018)
Megan Oyster, 27 (acquired from OL Reign in 2020)
Katie Naughton, 25 (acquired from Chicago Red Stars in 2020)
Alyssa Chapman, 31 (acquired from NC Courage in 2018)
Shea Groom, 27 (acquired from OL Reign in 2020)
Kristie Mewis, 29 (acquired from Chicago Red Stars in 2017)
Sophie Schmidt, 32 (acquired from FFC Frankfurt in 2019)
Bri Visalli, 25 (acquired from Birmingham City in 2020)
Rachel Daly, 28 (signed out of St. John's Univ. in 2017)
Nichelle Prince, 25 (signed out of Ohio State Univ. in 2018)
5 comments about "Houston Dash, NWSL Challenge Cup's unappreciated but undisputed champion".
  1. Dan Gautieri, July 27, 2020 at 7:18 a.m.

    I wish that the person who writes the articles about the tournament actually followed it better. The Dash did not play Sky Blue in the semis, so they didn't almost blow a 3-0 lead against them (Chicago did).

  2. Tom Swan replied, July 27, 2020 at 10:51 a.m.

    Yea, no excuse for being that sloppy, 10 sec to check that is simply good journalism.

  3. William Allen, July 27, 2020 at 8:20 a.m.

    Lavelle may have been good, but she was on a minutes restriction, so I would have liked to have seen another player who played many more minutes get that recognition.

  4. William Allen replied, July 27, 2020 at 8:24 a.m.

    I was referring to this list: 

    Goalkeeper: Britt Eckerstrom, Portland
    Defenders: Jaelene Daniels, NC Courage 
    -- Abby Erceg, NC Courage
    -- Julie Ertz, Chicago
    -- Casey Short, Chicago
    Midfielders: Debinha, NC Courage 
    -- Shea Groom, Houston
    -- Lindsey Horan, Portland
    -- Rose Lavelle, Washington
    Forwards: Rachel Daly, Houston
    -- Lynn Williams, NC Courage
    MVP: Daly. Golden Glove: Kailen Sheridan, Sky Blue FC. Future Legend: Ashley Sanchez, Sky Blue FC.

  5. Tom Swan, July 27, 2020 at 11:13 a.m.

    Chicago was outcoached by Houston as well as outplayed, the Dash appeared a better trained team. Houston was quicker to the ball, making smarter decisions under pressure and had the right players in the proper positions for them. Moving Watt into the middle and the gritty McCaskill out wide might open up the flow Chicago needs in the final third. I'd want St Georges fine intensity more upfront for the Red Stars to boost the lack of team speed in attack.

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