Since June 24, no other team in the NWSL has picked up as many points as the Houston Dash. The Dash haven’t lost a single game of their last five — the only team to stay out of the loss column in the same span. They’ve only conceded three goals, and scored seven. The Dash are five points back from a playoff spot, but have as many wins this season as the Seattle Reign and Orlando Pride. The difference is losses, but there’s still time. The season is still under their control, and there’s a will to win.
“You guys are making sure they’re not putting anything special in our food, right?” Rookie goalkeeper Jane Campbell joked on the phone, when asked if there’s some secret to what’s happening in Houston. She’s been a key part of Houston’s results — earning two clean sheets and adding 20 saves since June 24.
On a more serious level, Campbell broke down everything happening behind-the-scenes from a player perspective. “After the first FIFA break, we had a lot of changes with the team — more so the staff. It was kind of just like a new staff, to be honest,” she said. “Everything was revamped, new people came in, new opinions came in. Obviously, Carli Lloyd came back.”
The Dash have been here before too. They had a similar losing streak last season as spring turned to summer, before turning the ship around in the second half of the season. Last year, it was too little too late as they finished in eighth place, ten points off the playoff pace.
“I wasn’t on the team last year, but last year they did have that losing streak too — they didn’t want a repeat of last year,” Campbell continued. “We don’t want to go down that bad path. With a whole new staff coming in, and new ideas, and new sets of eyes, and coaches not really knowing us that well, that actually helped us, I think. The players just in general, we were like, we have to do something to change and get points. Even one point is better than none. We rally around each other, just having each other’s backs. There’s obviously moments in the games when we don’t play our best, and momentum isn’t going our way, and the ball’s not going our way, and we’re getting unlucky bounces and that kind of thing. But in those moments, instead of of being negative, we were just like, okay, let’s regroup and try to get the ball rolling our way. That’s helping us a lot. “
The losing streaks might have echoed across the seasons, but 2017 has looked pretty different in Houston, from staff turnover to a culture change to players in and out of the roster. In fact, the Dash only have one player on the roster who’s played every minute of all 14 games so far this season, midfielder Amber Brooks. Lloyd returned from a stint at Manchester City at the perfect time, but then the team lost forward Kealia Ohai to an ACL injury for the rest of the season. The season has been give and take, up and down, but Houston will certainly hope the upswing they’re on doesn’t stop any time soon.
“I think we’ve changed quite a bit,” interim head coach Omar Morales said in a team video. “I think the mentality has changed, I think our play has changed — I think every aspect of everything of this club has changed completely. I think when you get a little bit of success, the team feeds off that.”
Let’s rewind on the Dash season a bit. On May 27, the Dash lost to Seattle at home in BBVA Compass Stadium, 2-0. By that Monday, head coach Randy Waldrum was out. Morales stepped in as interim head coach on June 6, after only having joined the team as an assistant this season. On June 17, Carli Lloyd made her return in orange to NWSL action, but the Dash lost to the Orlando Pride 4-2.
But since June 24, the Dash haven’t lost. They bounced back against the Pride, picking up a 2-0 win on the 24th, beaten FC Kansas City and the Washington Spirit as well. They earned a point against the Breakers and the Thorns — but they’re not happy with just a single point. They’re on the hunt for all three, every game.
“What I messaged to the team was, six weeks ago, we were happy we just drew Portland and now it’s not enough. After the last few weeks we’ve had, a draw’s not enough for us. We want to go out and get the three points, and that shows that the culture’s changed some and that the expectations have changed some,” Morales said on July 14. “As a coach, that’s what you want out of your team.”
Campbell agrees that the expectation is to earn all three points. “The Portland game for sure, that was just a dagger to the heart to us,” she said. “We felt like we let ourselves down. We gave them a late goal and we lost two points. Same with the Boston game. Boston put up a really good fight that first game. We know it’s going to be hard to play them again, especially now that we both know each other really well. But in that first game, we felt a little robbed. We were pretty disappointed we couldn’t get the three points. Coming in this next week, we’re aiming to do whatever we can to get those three points and make certain we keep them out of the game as much as possible.”
If anyone is keeping opposing teams out of the game, it’s Campbell. In Houston’s 2-1 win over the Washington Spirit last week, Campbell made eight saves. But to her, there’s no difference between a clutch performance like that, or a calmer game. Saves are saves.
“I think it’s part of the job. There’s not really a difference between mentally preparing for Boston or mentally preparing for Washington. Every team in this league is so solid, and each game can go a certain way,” she said. “For me, specifically, my mental preparation doesn’t really change. It’s just: going out to play a soccer game, and that’s what it is. I’m just trying to help the team perform and be a solid backbone for them.”
When Campbell and the Dash square off against the Boston Breakers this weekend, they’ll be looking to play a different game than that scoreless draw they played on June 28. Houston is carrying another streak against Boston, having gone undefeated in their last four matches against the Breakers with three wins and that one draw. The team has also outscored Boston 8-2 in those four games. History’s on their side, but that doesn’t mean they’re taking anything for granted.
“We’re taking it game by game. We can’t look at this losing streak, or this winning streak we have,” Campbell said. “It’s one game at a time, one point at a time, one goal at a time, just being super simple with it, just trying to keep the momentum going.”