Houston, Which Has Never Made The Playoffs, Is 1 Win Away From An NWSL Championship

The league’s only team without a USWNT player has a chance to win it all.

Before this year, the Houston Dash had never made it into the NWSL playoffs. Thanks to the Orlando Pride pulling out of the 2020 campaign, that kinda changed as all eight clubs reached the knockout stage of the NWSL Challenge Cup. Now they have a chance to win a league title.

The Houston Dash edged the Portland Thorns 1-0 on Wednesday to advance to the NWSL Challenge Cup final. The Dash will meet either the Chicago Red Stars or Sky Blue FC in the final on Sunday. 

Houston went into Wednesday having been shut out in its last three games, but as the highest seed left in the field (No. 4). There hadn’t been a goal in any of the last three quarterfinal matches, including the Dash’s 0-0 draw with Utah, which Houston won 3-2 in a shootout. Only the Portland Thorns had scored in the quarterfinals, knocking off two-time reigning champion North Carolina 1-0.

In the 69th minute against the Thorns, the Dash ended their 375-minute goalless drought. Rachel Daly was first to reach a shot that had caromed off the crossbar and her diving header was the game’s only goal. 

After seven straight scoreless halves of play in the NWSL Challenge Cup knockout rounds (and eight of nine), probably the least likely team finally broke through. The Dash are the only team in the league without a USWNT player, and they traded their most popular player and best offensive weapon Kealia Ohai to Chicago in the offseason. 

But you couldn’t say it wasn’t a deserved lead for the Dash, who pestered Britt Eckerstrom’s goal far more than Jane Campbell was bothered in the Houston net. Even with the all-time leading goal scorer in international soccer history Christine Sinclair, the Thorns never really troubled Campbell, though it didn’t help Portland that stud midfielder Lindsey Horan was out injured.

Regardless of who was available, the Dash, who have never played in the normal NWSL playoffs, are now a win away from winning their first NWSL title.

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