Rachel Daly came to Utah off the back of a banner year in her career.
The forward led the Dash with five goals last season in the NWSL, while being a key defender for England’s semifinal run in the 2019 World Cup. This season has already brought a new accolade for Daly: co-captain, alongside goalkeeper Jane Campbell.
It’s a role that Daly, with her experience in Houston, doesn’t take lightly.
“Being captain and here for five years – I think it’s do or die for me now,” Daly said. “I want to win. We haven’t been successful the last five years and I think this year is the time to turn it around. It’s a really good group, and James [Clarkson] has really enforced that we want to be successful and move on from the past when things haven’t gone our way.”
Daly’s time in Houston has seen a rotating door on the sidelines. Clarkson’s return to the touchline in 2020 is the first time Daly is playing under a manager entering their second campaign since Randy Waldrum in 2017. Daly says that this continuity can only help the Dash this summer.
“For me, I really respect James, “Daly said. “I think his philosophy is fantastic – what he believes in, how he is as a human and as a coach. For him to stay this second year, I needed that consistency. He got thrown in the deep end last year. Now, he’s implemented his style and we know how he wants to play and we’re all on the same ship with him. I think he’s an integral part of how we want to be successful moving forward.”
Clarkson’s return brought with it a flurry of roster moves to bring in fresh faces to Houston. Daly has seven new teammates in the fold during the Challenge Cup – and she’s loving every second of it.
“The new players have brought in a lot of positive energy, positive vibes – the connection we have off the field is second to none,” she said. “I’ve never been a part of a team that has been so close. I think that’s a big part of it – you take that onto the field, and you see it in our performance.”
It’s not only the energy that new acquisitions, including Shea Groom, Katie Naughton, and Bri Visalli bring to the Dash, but it’s a fresh mentality and determination that have changed the trajectory of the team.
“I think the underdog mentality,” Daly said. “We’ve all said this in interviews, we want to earn the respect of people. We don’t want to roll over against teams. People think we’re just the Dash, we come sixth or seventh every year. It’s the Dash and we’re here to play this year. I think that shows in our last few performances.”
The passing and then the finish by @RachelDaly3 😍
1-1 | #HOUvUTA
— NWSL (@NWSL) June 30, 2020
Come to play they have.
The Dash sit second heading into their third match of the Challenge Cup against Sky Blue FC, leading the tournament in goals scored with five. Houston has played some of the most exciting soccer of the tournament, with Kristie Mewis and newcomer Shea Groom supporting Daly in the attack. It’s not only the personnel that’s shifted, but the style of play as the Dash have worked hard on building out their electric attack from back to front.
“The way we build up is completely different from last year,” Daly noted. “Everyone typically thinks we’re a team that plays the long ball. We’re a counter-attacking team, but we’ve so many different elements to our game now, pieces we’ve been missing. The goals we’ve scored in the last few games have been really good goals – not just tap-in from two yards or scrappy goals. That’s really important for us. I can’t remember the last time we’ve scored three in one game. It’s really important for us to get the build up on the attack and that’s what we’ve been working on since day one of preseason.”
With a fresh mentality, roster reinforcements, and Clarkson at the helm, it seems that the sky’s the limit for the Dash. Daly would agree, but knows that there’s work to be done and is relying on the team’s newfound mentality to lead them there.
“We say this a lot – we’ve got to stay in our lane,” she said. “I think it’s easy to take your foot off the gas when you have a good performance and you think everyone’s respecting you now. The mentality of this team is do or die, and I don’t think anyone here will die. The main good thing about this group is that we all want to win. No one’s settling for second best, third best, or whatever. We just have to keep focused and stay in our lane.”
While Houston looks to build their momentum tonight, Daly will also be interested in some Thursday morning results – the Yorkshire native’s beloved Leeds United host Stoke City and aim to get one step closer to automatic promotion to the Premier League. When asked about Thursday’s EFL Championship match, Daly smiled and had a simple response.
“When Leeds win, the Dash win.”