Houston Dash celebrates ten years of soccer. How has the league changed in that time?

At one point, players didn’t have locker rooms or dedicated fields to play. Now all games are streamed online.

By Sarah AschApril 16, 2024 10:38 am,

The Houston Dash played their first ever National Women’s Soccer League game a decade ago in April 2014. They played then-defending league champions, the Portland Thorns. 

The Dash have not always had the most impressive record — they made it to the playoffs for the first time in their ten-year history in 2022. But the program has grown a lot since the early days.

Theo Lloyd-Hughes, who covers women’s soccer, said the team’s growth in the last ten years has mirrored growth in the league as a whole.

Lloyd-Hughes recently spoke to Kealia Watt (née Ohai), who was on the original roster for the Dash, about her experience as a player. Watt has returned to women’s soccer as a sideline analyst for Amazon Prime, which is streaming games on Fridays. 

“It was amazing talking to her about being back in Houston, back in the NWSL in 2024,” he said. “In those ten years, it’s kind of hard to get your head around just how much things have changed.

Something in particular she talked about was when they were at the training center in 2014, there were no locker rooms. They all had porta potties, essentially. They would go to the bathroom in there, change their outfits in there. Sometimes you’d go home in your dirty training uniform and the players were then expected to wash their own uniforms as well.”

Player pay has also increased significantly over the last decade, Lloyd-Hughes said. 

“For a rookie player, it could be about $7,000 for the season (in 2014),” he said. “Now the minimum in the league is $37,000. So there are big concrete changes both in how they were training, how they’re being treated and how they’re being compensated.”

The NWSL has also expanded, growing to fourteen teams with teams from the Bay Area and Salt Lake City joining the league this year. 

“A few months ago, the NWSL signed a new broadcast deal with Amazon, ESPN, CBS and the Scripps Network. It’s worth $60 million a year, and it’s probably the biggest women’s league broadcast in the world,” Lloyd-Hughes said.

“We’re seeing so much more access, so many more cameras, so much more coverage of the game. And in turn, that’s creating a more exciting league, a better product, more investment for the players, more resources into stuff like sports science. And that’s just boosting the whole quality.”

Another thing that has changed is the players won a collective bargaining agreement in 2022.

“The league’s first collective bargaining agreement in 2022 guaranteed better contracts, better treatment and more safe access for the players, again, surrounding sports science and coaching, rules and regulations for what is expected for professional athletes,” he said. 

More eyes on the game and more investment in the league has also improved game play, Lloyd-Hughes said. 

“Some games used to be in baseball stadiums, and they’d have to cover up the diamond and wheel in extra grass. Not only does that jeopardize the health and safety of the players, it creates a worse product,” he said. “If you can’t move the ball around, if you can’t score great goals and you can’t put those goals on an HD camera and share them around the world, how are you going to grow this league?

So it can be as simple as making sure that there are standards written in place in the league to say ‘these are the stadiums, this is the surface we expect.’ And then once you get great surfaces and the players are healthy and fans can really see the game, then you broadcast that game around the world and you show how talented these athletes are. So again, the transformation we’ve seen is we always had great athletes.”

For people who can’t go watch the Dash in person, Lloyd-Hughes said there are a number of streaming options. Amazon Prime is streaming games on Friday evenings. Saturday games are streamed on the ION network, and Sunday games are streamed on ESPN. Games can also be found on NWSL+, which is the league’s free streaming service.

“Some of the best female soccer players in the world play in the United States,” Lloyd-Hughes said. “We’re giving them the right resources to make them happy, keep them safe, keep them compensated, and attract the best talent in the world.”

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