Against all odds, the Houston Dash finally etched their name in the National Women’s Soccer League as a winner on Sunday.
The Dash topped perennial league heavyweight Chicago Red Stars, 2-0, in the NWSL Challenge Cup final on Sunday.
Kristie Mewis got dragged down by Chicago defender Kayla Sharples in the fifth minute, prompting a massive moment for Canadian international Sophie Schmidt. She beat Red Stars goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher from the penalty spot to take an early lead.
Mewis picked up an injury on the play and appeared to be playing through serious pain before being replaced by Cece Kizer in the 28th minute, but it did not matter as Chicago failed to make the most of its opportunities time and time again.
In stoppage time, Rachel Daly caught Naeher well off her line to connect with Shea Groom, who rifled her shot into the empty net to seal the victory.
Since joining the league in 2014, the Dash have never managed to make the playoffs in the small, but rapidly growing league and the 2020 campaign did not see second-year head coach James Clarkson overhaul a roster devoid of coveted U.S. Women’s National Team star power.
With several members of the Houston squad feeling that they were underrated, the team opened up the tournament with perhaps the most exciting game, a 3-3 draw with the Utah Royals. The Dash collected a win against OL Reign before taking disappointing defeats to Sky Blue FC and Washington Spirit.
They recaptured the magic when they knocked off Portland Thorns in the knockout round thanks to a goal from tournament MVP Rachel Daly, who like Groom, ended the competition with three goals in the tournament winning effort.
The Red Stars were left to suffer through another defeat in a final, this time in the midst of a plethora of injuries, with U.S. Women’s National Team defender Tierna Davidson sidelined, along with USWNT defender Casey Short, who missed the final.