Analysis

Not so clockwork Orange: Houston Dash back to square one yet again

Wilf Thorne-ISI Photos

They have the reigning world player of the year on their roster and enviable infrastructure behind them. So why can't the Dash compete?

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Given the relative stability of the NWSL, where star United States and Canadian internationals are allocated to teams and their salaries subsidized by their respective federations, big trades are relatively rare.

Occasionally, blockbusters do happen: Alex Morgan heading to Orlando; Nadia Nadim leaving Sky Blue for Portland; Western New York contentiously shipping Carli Lloyd to Houston in 2014 and sending Sydney Leroux to Seattle for the rights to Abby Wambach a year later.

By the time it was welcoming Lloyd from the Flash 10 months into its existence, Houston had already been involved in nearly half a dozen trades, and this week they took part in their latest head-turning transaction.

On one hand, maybe all that activity is a sign of a team trying to do something, anything, good after (or during) a season that isn’t. Or maybe it’s a sign of a team too ready to take basically whatever gets thrown its way.

Wheeling and dealing, or thrashing and slapdashing?

Even with Randy Waldrum no longer at the helm, a position he held from 2014 until the middle of this season, Houston continues to make moves. In just the past week, the Dash sent Morgan Brian to Chicago in exchange for Kristie Mewis, who probably hadn’t even unpacked her bags after being traded to the Red Stars from Washington the week before, and goalkeeper Lydia Williams to Seattle, in exchange for a second-round draft pick in 2018.

Trask Smith-ISI Photos

Morgan Brian: Headed north (Trask Smith-ISI Photos)

The Williams trade at least kind of made sense. Jane Campbell has taken over the starting role, so sending Williams to Seattle for something the Dash can use to (re-re-)rebuild with ahead of next season, at the very least points to Houston looking towards the future and maybe finally making it out of the bottom half of the table, someday.

That pivot towards the future, however, is also what makes the Brian trade completely baffling. Brian was selected by the Dash as the first overall pick in the 2015 draft. She’s still only 24 and has already become a pretty consistent part of the U.S. women’s national team picture. And despite her age, she’s brought some experience to the Dash’s midfield, something that’s become incredibly important over the long stretches when Lloyd has been unavailable.

Mewis really doesn't add anything to Houston’s lineup, and that’s the biggest problem. She was once in the U.S. national team pool, but she has struggled mightily since falling out of that picture, now on her sixth team — and third in two weeks — since joining the NWSL in 2013.

Mewis, in both the short term and down the road, solves none of the Dash’s problems. In part, it’s because Mewis just isn’t much of impact player. The other part though, has nothing to do with Mewis, or any one player, really, so much as it has to do with how Houston operates.

The Dash’s unfulfilled promise, and the team that cried wolf

Every year, Houston promises to be better, and every year the Dash miss the postseason. Only two other teams, Boston and Orlando, can also claim that distinction, and one of those teams has only been in the league since last season. The other is Boston.

Granted, there are huge differences between Boston, Orlando and the Dash. Boston, first, is Boston. The Breakers have not made a postseason appearance since the 2010 WPS season, seven years and one league ago. But Boston also doesn’t have the infrastructure that Houston – at least in theory – does, either in terms of a front office or a fancy stadium.

Orlando is easier to compare to Houston. Like the Dash, the Pride entered the league with the backing of an MLS team. And Orlando, also like Houston and most expansion teams in any sport anywhere ever, spent its inaugural season mired in whatever gunk is in the NWSL basement.

The Dash, in its first season, finished dead last. The Pride, last year, finished second from the bottom. But in between last year and this one, Orlando also did something about it.

NEXT: How the Dash keep getting lapped by their NWSL peers