CARY, N.C. – National Women’s Soccer League teams get heavily involved in their communities. Players mingle with fans after games, sign autographs, pose for pictures, and personally thank fans for coming to the games. They chat with people in coffee shops, restaurants, stores, everywhere. They get to know people in the community through clinics and camps and appearances.
So when disaster hits where they live, it hurts. For Houston Dash players, Hurricane Harvey not only disrupted their season and turned their place of business – BBVA Compass Stadium – into a relief shelter, it devastated their community,
“It’s heart-breaking,” said Sarah Hagen, a 27-year-old forward. “We have fans who come and support us and we don’t know if they have homes anymore.”
On Saturday, Aug. 26, the Dash were to host the North Carolina Courage, but as Harvey approached, the game was quickly postponed and has been rescheduled for Sept. 27. When the storm was finally over, close to 50 inches of rain had fallen, the city had experienced wind gusts of over 100 miles per hour, and flooding left thousands homeless.
“It was my first experience with a hurricane,” said Janine Van Wyk, a native of South Africa who shared a house in Houston with the team’s three Brazilian players — Poliana, Andressa and Bruna Binits. “It affected the team a lot because there were six or seven days where we were stuck in our houses and couldn’t get out at all.
“Our house was completely flooded, but we managed to get all the things we needed,” Van Wyk added. “The Brazilians were able to travel to Dallas before it actually hit the house, and the Dash just got us a new apartment to stay in.”
Hagen, who was acquired by the Dash in April of 2016, was playing for the Orlando Pride last season when Hurricane Matthew hit Florida. Having lived through Wisconsin snowstorms growing up and through college at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Hagen has become a somewhat of a severe weather veteran.
“I have never seen anything like Harvey,” she said. “The amount of water was amazing. We live right next the highway. I walked out of our apartment and it was a complete river. I have friends all over Houston who sent me videos of things like people in kayaks right outside apartments. I was fortunate that I wasn’t in any serious flooding or harmed in any way. To see the devastation and hear the stories is sad.
“Our organization did a great job making sure everyone was safe and taken care of,” she added. “It’s great to be a part of an organization that had the platform and the responsibility to make sure we did all we can do to help. We let people know that we care. It’s a community. They support us, so we should help support them.”
With the season quickly coming to a close, the Dash are looking back at a year of struggles. They fired their coach, Randy Waldrum, after the team went 2-5 in its first seven games. Assistant Omar Morales took over and the team has gone 5-7-2 since. The Dash currently sit in eighth place in the 10-team NWSL, missing the last playoff spot by eight points.
Additionally, Carli Lloyd, the team’s marquee player, missed the first two-and-half months of the season while playing for Manchester City and has seen action in only eight Dash matches this season. The team’s other U.S. national team player, midfielder Morgan Brian, battled injuries all season and played in just four games. Brian was recently traded to Chicago for Kristie Mewis, one of four additions to the roster in August.
“There are a lot of things that haven’t gone our way since the start of the season, things that haven’t allowed us to reach our goal, which was obviously get to the playoff stage,” said Van Wyk. “We’ve had coaches coming in and out and players coming in and out. We really haven’t had consistency.”
Things were looking up in late June and July. From June 24 through July 22, Houston went unbeaten in six games, winning four and tying two. The streak was interrupted by the international break from July 27-30. After the break, the Dash were not the same, losing four times in five games in August. Then Harvey showed up.
“The hurricane affected us training-wise, too” said Van Wyk. “Once the rain stopped and the flooding went down, we were able to get out of our houses and travel to Dallas to get our first training session. That was two days before we played Seattle.”
Having endured a losing season, a coaching change, a fluctuating roster and a historic hurricane, Van Wyk and her teammates are eager to put 2017 behind them.
“Hopefully, we can build on this team, and hopefully not many players will leave, and we can build for next season. Right now, we are just trying to get through the season, finish strong and take it from there.”