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The Houston Dash Are Figuring It Out

Houston Dash players celebrate together after a goal against Orlando Pride
via Kenny Mirabueno/ApolloHOU

Coming into the 2023 season, the Houston Dash were fresh off their first ever playoff berth and looking to improve with a major addition to the attack: Diana Ordóñez. Ordóñez came to the Dash after an impressive 2022 campaign with North Carolina that saw her score 11 goals, good for 4th best in the NWSL. The combination of Ordóñez and returning Dash striker Ebony Salmon, who scored 9 goals of her own last season, was supposed to give Houston one of the most potent attacks in the league.

And it just didn’t.

Early Struggles for the Houston Dash

Despite all the preseason hype about their pairing up front, neither Diana Ordóñez or Ebony Salmon was very effective to start the season for the Dash. Despite having 2 great forwards on their front line, the Dash had one of the worst offenses in the league at the start of the year. The Dash scored just 5 goals in their first 8 league matches. Fewest in the league.

Unfortunately, Diana Ordóñez and Ebony Salmon simply could not get on the same page in front of goal, and opportunities for other players like Maria Sanchez to score were few and far between. But everything changed the night the Dash upset the previously unbeaten reigning NWSL champions: Portland Thorns.

Diana Ordóñez was forced to miss that match while in health & safety protocols, leaving Ebony Salmon in the starting lineup alongside Barb Oliveri. However, after Oliveri suffered an early injury, Michelle Alozie was subbed on in the 22nd minute and gave the attack a huge jolt of energy. From that point on, Salmon played her best game of the season including scoring her first goal and setting up the other goal in that match.

The Emergence of Michelle Alozie

From that match on, Head Coach Sam Laity has deployed Alozie as the second forward in the starting lineup with either Salmon or Ordóñez, but not both. Alozie, a gifted 26 year old who plays for the Nigerian National Team, has consistently been one of the Dash’s best and most exciting players since being inserted as a starter.

Alozie is constantly putting pressure on goal with her vision for long passes, her pace, and her flair for fancy footwork. Instead of having two strikers up front who are expected to be the finishers, having Alozie in the starting lineup allows her and Maria Sanchez to work on creating opportunities and complimenting Ordóñez or Salmon (both have still played separately) instead of just having one winger trying to create chances for 2 strikers.

Take this play for example, where Alozie switches the play by getting a long ball over the top to Sanchez who is then able to set up Ordóñez for the goal. Having Alozie and Sanchez in the lineup gives the Houston Dash greatly needed attacking vision and chance creation. And early results have shown that it’s working.

The Dash have won 3 of their last 4 matches, scoring 6 goals in the last 4 games after scoring just 3 goals in their first 6 games. Even though it may have come out of necessity with Ordóñez being out sick and Oliveri going down with an injury, it’s encouraging to see Coach Laity and the Houston Dash being willing to experiment with new lineups. And it seems like they’ve figured something out that could set them up for another playoff run this season.

What’s Next for the Dash?

The Houston Dash have their next game here at home in Shell Energy Stadium against NJ/NY Gotham FC on Sunday June 11th at 7pm.

Gotham had briefly been at the top of the NWSL standings until a loss this week against San Diego, and their roster features current and former USWNT Stars like Ali Krieger, Kristie Mewis, Kelley O’Hara, Midge Purce, and Lynn Williams. So it should be a fun night and a big test for the Dash.

Check out the rest of the Houston Dash’s 2023 Schedule and stay tuned to @ApolloHOU and the blog for soccer coverage in both the MLS and NWSL.

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