Jamia Fields on the ball - photo credit: Houston Dash
The National Women’s Soccer League features some of the biggest stars in the world. With the Summer Olympics kicking off in July, many of those stars will be absent for a significant portion of the season. Additionally, the start of the league’s Challenge Cup competition will fall in an international FIFA window, meaning the national team players will be called up instead of being with their club teams to start the tournament. Fortunately, the league’s impressive depth will be showcased while the internationals are away. This series will highlight five players from each NWSL team who can take advantage of the opportunity to make a name for themselves this season.
If all goes well for the Dash internationals, the club can expect to be without several regular starters, giving a massive opportunity to players who normally play a limited number of minutes. While the backline is mostly intact, the Dash could face playing a league game with a keeper not named Jane Campbell for the first time since 2017. Both Lindsey Harris and Amanda Dennis could have strong performances in Campbell’s absence, and at least one of them will almost certainly earn her first NWSL minutes in the coming months. The team’s offensive depth in the midfield and front line will also be tested. While the team was able to find a way to score and win without Rachel Daly during the Fall Series, the club now could be forced to do so without Kristie Mewis as well. Mewis scored or assisted seven of the Dash’s 12 Fall Series goals. If the Dash are to find success through the entire season, the offensive players must be able to find the back of the net consistently. With that being said, this is not the same old Dash. The team finally has the depth to compete week in and week out and should give consistently strong performances over the course of this year. Here are my five Dash players to watch in 2021.
Assuming Mewis makes the U.S. Olympic roster, Groom will be the lone remaining starter in the midfield from Houston’s Fall Series lineup. She will be expected to play a large leadership role with co-captains Daly and Campbell out as well, something that will not come new to her as a former Texas A&M team captain. In 2020, the Dash played much of their offense through their midfield, and Groom will be expected to continue to carry much of that offensive weight playing in the number 10 role. One of Groom’s strongest abilities is beating players on the dribble to rack up shots and assists, an asset she will have to rely on heavily as she adjusts to playing without the Mewis-Groom-Daly chemistry from last season. I expect to see Groom solidify herself as a dominant and disruptive force on both sides of the ball and be the go-to offensive player for this Dash side.
Latsko’s game looks its best when she plays in the center of the front line, which is where I expect her to slot into the starting lineup with Daly out. Do not assume there will be any drop in intensity, however, as Latsko’s playing style is built around being the hardest worker on the pitch. Since being drafted by the Dash in the third round in 2018, she has channeled that work rate into being a consistent threat on the attack and a strong force in the defensive high-pressure system the team debuted in the Challenge Cup last year. The Dash will hope for her to continue the good form she has found since returning from the left ACL tear that took her out of the 2019 NWSL season. In particular, she was an offensive standout in the Fall Series last year, with 3 goals and 1 assist. I would not be surprised to see Latsko continue to be heavily involved in the Dash’s scoring efforts this season.
Off the field, Fields has been an important person to have in the locker room since signing in 2019. On the field, she has seen limited minutes. When she does get on the pitch, she shows flashes of excellence, but she has never quite found her footing in the NWSL. Fields was a great college player at Florida State University, where she helped lead the team to a national championship in 2014 by scoring the lone goal over Virginia. If she can find a way to push her college form to the next level, she could be a strong asset off the bench for the Dash. This should be a year for Fields to take advantage of, and hopefully she will make a strong enough showing in training to get those game minutes she needs to develop her play. While she does not need to be a player getting numbers on the stats sheets, I would like to see her have a season like Bri Visalli’s Challenge Cup last year. If Fields does come to life on the field, she will be a joy to watch.
The Dash decided to forgo picking in the first round of the 2021 NWSL draft to trade with Portland for Emily Ogle and Texas-born Seiler. Historically, the Dash have made more than a handful of questionable trades, but that era seems to be behind them. This move should pay off the in short term, as head coach James Clarkson knew the quality depth Seiler brings fills an immediate need for the team. Seiler is also a younger player with a very high potential upside long term, and she could easily become a mainstay in the midfield for years to come, assuming she is able to stay healthy. Clarkson already seems high on Seiler’s game through preseason, and she will be competing for a starting spot in the number 6 role with Sophie Schmidt. With Schmidt almost certainly out for the Olympics, the Dash will need Seiler to make a big impact to be successful this season. I expect to see her live up to her playmaking potential.
Blackwood’s first minutes in the NWSL came in large part because of COVID-19, a fitting entry for a potential breakout player in a league that thrived rather than faltered during the pandemic. For the Fall Series, Blackwood was one of seven players the Orlando Pride signed to short-term contracts to replace the 11 who went overseas. Blackwood went on to appear in all four fall series games for Orlando and stood out as a potential impact player on the wing with the ability to play on all three lines. With Jamaica, Blackwood played every minute of the 2019 World Cup campaign as a left back, a position we will likely see the former Navarro College standout play in her return to Texas. Blackwood is a young player with international and Champions League experience. Her potential upside is huge. If the Dash are able to develop her to fit into their system, she could easily join the ranks of Jamaican standouts in the women’s game. I expect Blackwood to be a player Clarkson looks to develop over the course of the season. If she is given significant game minutes, do not be surprised to see her heavily involved on the left side of the attack.