In an impressive NWSL Challenge Cup run that has seen the Houston Dash keep three clean sheets in six games, a litany of players have stepped up in a variety of ways on their way to the championship game.
For veteran defender Allysha Chapman, her leadership role isn’t heard by everyone.
“I’ve never really had to take an outspoken leadership role on a team before. I feel I’m more of a connector. I try to keep things light, crack jokes, and keep the team happy. That’s been my role. On the field, I did have to take a leadership role early on so the team could jell and my voice could be heard on the field.”
Chapman’s role as a connector is even more important this summer, where the Dash relied on new acquisitions Megan Oyster, Katie Naughton, and Bri Visalli to help the club on the defensive end. In a championship preparation week where veterans are usually taking a vocal lead, Chapman took a moment to recognize the voice the new players have had as well.
“I think that the girls that came in had a lot of playoff and big-game experience,” Chapman said. “That experience is something that I haven’t earned in this league yet. A lot of them actually became instant voices of leadership right away in our team. Our team has really welcomed those new additions, and it’s shown on the field”
For James Clarkson’s litany of aforementioned new acquisitions, recruitment was not based solely on talent – a point he aims to drive home with his players week in, and week out.
“The most important thing to James this year was having good people,” Chapman saaid. “He even told us how he sat down with Bri [Visalli] before coming and got to know her as a person – and knew she was a good person to have in Houston, before a good player to have in Houston. That has helped the overall mentality of our team. We want to be good people and good teammates first, and then put on a good display on the field second.”
As Houston has grown on the field, their culture has grown off it as well. While Clarkson was able to move the needle in his first season in charge, this summer in Utah has truly seen his work on the culture of the Dash be fully realized – especially by those in the locker room.
“I think through his leadership he started to build the foundation of that in year one, but this summer he’s truly been able to implement that as non-negotiable,” Chapman said. “This is what he expects from this team. Everyone has bought in, and even more than we did last year. Everyone’s playing for each other, him, and the city of Houston, and this year you can really tell that we’ve all bought in.”
And bought in they have.
Houston’s impressive displays throughout the Challenge Cup earn them a chance to play for a trophy on Sunday – the first time that’s happened in the club’s seven seasons of play. For Chapman – who’s been in Houston for four of those seven years – this is a step that’s been a long time coming.
“I just feel like it’s about time,” Chapman said. “We haven’t been able to make the playoffs and have underachieved, in my eyes, for several years. It’s a relief that the team is now validated, in a way. We made it to this final, and went through this tournament playing a game every four days. It’s been grueling, but our mental toughness has gotten us to this point.”
Sunday’s final appearance doesn’t just validate the work the club has put in, though. It’s an achievement that repays the love and support of the city of Houston, who have held it down for the Dash from afar this summer.
“It does feel good to bring that success to Houston,” Chapman added. “I know that they’re all cheering us on back there. Before one of our games, we had a wall of different quotes from our fans, which was special. They’ve covered our coffee too, everyday it seems. It’s crazy how people are championing us back in Houston, and we really appreciate the support. We want to do it for them on Sunday.”