Rachel Daly is quarantined with her Houston Dash teammates in Sandy, Utah, but that’s not the only reason why she’s in unfamiliar territory.
The club captain and star striker finds herself just one game away from the championship match in the NWSL Challenge Cup – an achievement Daly has not experienced in her five seasons with the Dash.
A victory on Wednesday against the Portland Thorns would stun many people who did not consider them a threat heading into the tournament, although their performance this tournament has already put the league on notice.
“It was good for our team to get a good win and the media started to recognize us for who we are versus our old Dash ways,” Daly said to Just Women’s Sports after defeating OL Reign in the preliminary stage. “I think we’ve always been an underdog, but we’ve brought that on ourselves. I think for us this year it was all about earning respect and gaining respect from the opposition, from the media, from the fans, and I think that attention came to us a little bit after the Reign game, which was nice.”
Daly is relishing the opportunity to find success with the Dash after the club granted her an opportunity in professional soccer by selecting her number six overall in the 2016 NWSL Draft.
“The club means a lot to me,” said Daly. “I’m actually playing to represent a club that I have loved for the past five years.”
Feeling frustrated that her career stalled overseas when she stopped earning call-ups to the English national team, the former Leeds United and Lincoln Ladies player decided to attend St. John’s University. In three seasons, Daly scored 50 goals in 60 games to gain the attention of professional teams in the United States and back home in England.
The Dash selected her, and she slowly worked her way back into the national team conversation. Once Phil Neville took the reins as the Three Lions head coach, Daly finally found a coach who believed in her ability. Neville has utilized Daly’s versatility playing her as an outside back, wingback, and winger.
Perseverance finally paid off when Neville selected her for the England roster competing in the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
“All the things I’ve talked about, it’s paid off,” Daly said to the These Football Times. Good things do happen when you work hard. I’ve seen so many players quit and so much talent go to waste. I don’t know what to do about it still, it’s everything you ever dream of and work for.”
The Three Lions made a deep run in the tournament, ultimately making the semifinals where Daly played 89 minutes in a 2-1 loss to the United States, the eventual champions.
England’s loss proved grating to an ultra-competitor like Daly. What was once a national team setup that pushed Daly aside and spurred her towards improvement, is now a program she staunchly defends with a chip on her shoulder.
“There were billboards everywhere, walking into the airport the first thing I see is ‘welcome home USA, World Cup champions’, and they do parades, and it’s kind of in your face,” Daly told the Telegraph after arriving back to the United States following the World Cup.”
“When Seattle came into town, we would get more fans because Megan Rapinoe was playing. That was frustrating because more people would show up just for her and I’m thinking ‘I wish they were coming for me because we had won the World Cup.’ That was tough.”
A Challenge Cup finals appearance would bring a new level of credibility to Daly and the Dash. Even as the highest seed remaining, few expect them to leave Utah with a trophy. As far as Daly is concerned, people have doubted her for years. That underdog mentality is familiar to her, and it plays right into their hands.
“I think we’re the only team in the league that doesn’t have [a U.S. Women’s National Team player],” she explained. “We just want to go out in this tournament and show people what we can do and what we are capable of.”