It wasn’t quite nabbing two of the top four players in this draft class, but the Dash might still be doing backflips after grabbing two of the top eight despite that second pick coming in the second round. There’s a certain terror that has to be rolling through the hearts of Houston’s rivals with the thought of Kealia Ohai and Rafaelle Souza occupying opposite flanks in the attack and stretching defenses until they snap in the Houston heat. It seemed a given that Stephanie Ochs would occupy the flank opposite Ohai until Souza, a very real challenger for a spot in the first XI, was taken at the beginning of the first round. It’s a move that could necessitate a move inside for Ochs, where she’d presumably battle Ella Masar and Tiffany McCarty for the leading role in the Houston attack. That is, of course, if Souza is kept as an attacker. She has played at international level as a full-back, though one suspects Meghan Klingenberg will have the position locked down upon her arrival. Before then, Souza’s ability as a left-back might be needed with the club short on reliable full-back options.
The Dash were notedly aggressive in their pursuit of assets, almost seeing their hand being forced by having to start from scratch in direct opposition of their league rivals. Portland boss Paul Riley argued Meleana Shim was worth more than anyone that could have been found early in the second round of the draft. It sounds like rationalization for Riley’s antipathy towards the process more than anything, and I suppose Waldrum would disagree with that assessment, nabbing the talented Marissa Diggs, a center-back who won’t be bossed around and who is undoubtedly used to the heat, having grown up in Texas and played collegiately in Orlando. Final pick Jordan Jackson was fine value for a fourth round pick and may be called upon sooner rather than later given the Dash’s seeming lightness in numbers in central midfield.
2 – Kealia Ohai – F – North Carolina
It seemed like the internet consensus drifted towards this pick being a slam dunk before it drifted a little back towards it being not so much of a slam dunk considering some of the Dash’s other needs. Familial ties aside, the Dash probably came into this draft in need of some more defensive depth considering some of the questions facing the club early in the season, but the pull of Ohai won out in the end. The Utah native is a tremendously athletic winger who was running by professional defenders in exhibition contests early in her UNC career, and many of the plaudits you can attach to Crystal Dunn being a winner fit Ohai as well after a magical 2012 that saw her win a U20 World Cup and a national title. Ohai’s role in Houston appears simple: drive down the wings and stretch defenses. She’s capable of playing on the left or the right, adding to her value, though she’s not going to be the pure goalscorer some might have envisioned after her rookie season at UNC. Ohai’s usage rate statistics weren’t that great as a senior as she was forced to shoulder too much of the scoring burden, but I suspect that won’t be the case at the next level. She’s as good as anyone in the past few years at getting endline and cutting it back, and her tenacious competitiveness should serve Houston well as they try to get up to speed in 2014.
10 – Rafaelle Souza – D/F – Ole Miss
Was out and then she was in, much to the benefit of Houston, who may have picked up the steal of the draft after picking up the Brazilian, who only got her name tossed into the draft pool very late after initially not being on the list. She would have been eighth on my Big Board had she declared earlier, meaning I feel that Houston got good value with their first second round pick by taking the Ole Miss star. Souza toyed with defenses all season long, battling it out for the Golden Boot until the very last despite the opposition knowing full well the threat she posed. She’s an absolute magician on set pieces, bending balls in from impossible angles and displaying a range of well over thirty-five yards from free kicks. Souza will be facing better goalkeeping in the NWSL, but there’s no denying her strength from dead balls, including on corner kicks. The Brazilian filled out physically in her three years with the Rebels, building the muscle and strength to compete in the rough and tumble SEC while losing little of the pace and agility that separates her from the pack. Deceptively good in the air, the main question now is where to play the Brazilian, as Randy Waldrum already has no shortage of attacking options. Souza’s not a central player though and doesn’t hold the ball up well enough to be a center forward, meaning she’s likely to play on the flank. A Souza-Ohai winger combo could potentially destroy defenses, though I suspect Souza’s short-term future may be at left-back, where she’s played for the Brazilian WNT. At least until Meghan Klingenberg returns. After that, all bets are likely to be off, though I’d be shocked if Souza doesn’t force her way into the team somehow.
11 – Marissa Diggs – D – UCF
Considering Houston still probably has no idea how the Lauren Sesselmann situation is going to be resolved and are probably going to be missing Whitney Engen for the beginning of the season regardless, fortifying the middle of the defense was always going to be key going into the draft. They made a proactive move in the draft, trading Meleana Shim back to Portland in exchange for this pick and Nikki Washington. It’s rare for small school prospects to go this high (and I’m considering UCF a small school relatively speaking since it wasn’t in a BCS conference for three of Diggs’ four years there), but Diggs was like a metronome on the Knights’ backline for four seasons, winning All-America honors twice en route to becoming one of the nation’s top center-backs. Diggs isn’t the biggest central defender at 5’7″ but is one who does know how to use what size she does have to great effect and isn’t going to be bullied around by bigger defenders at this level. Diggs figures to be needed from the start here, and the native Texan should certainly get every chance to make her mark with the Dash in her rookie season.
28 – Jordan Jackson – MF/F – Nebraska
For evidence as to how important Jackson was to Nebraska last season, just look at the club’s results with her and without her a year earlier in 2012, when she missed most of the season through injury. That seems overly simplistic and doesn’t give enough credit to rookie Jaycie Johnson or an improved defense, but the difference with the Huskers was still startling upon Jackson’s return. Settling into more of a playmaker role this season, Jackson still managed to score nine goals while nabbing a career high twelve assists in feeding the Huskers’ high powered offense. Jackson’s usage numbers have never really been that great, so I think she’ll be a midfielder full-time at this level, but her dynamism makes for an interesting contrast as opposed to the controlled passing game of Teresa Noyola. The only worry with Jackson is probably regarding her health after missing almost all of 2012 through injury. Given the club’s lack of depth in central midfield, I think there’s a great chance Jackson sticks. If she’s healthy, this might look like a major steal in a few years.