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Houston Dash midfielder Carli Lloyd

Next month, Houston soccer fans will be back at the bird’s nest-like BBVA Compass Stadium, cheering on the Dynamo and Dash teams as the 2016 season kicks off. Even with the teams’ respective followings, however, fanfare surrounding soccer is still relatively in its infancy here in Houston, despite decades of official MLS teams playing on U.S. soil.

Yet the United States Women’s National Team has been importing squads ever since it became a World Cup champion last year. The hosting of the inaugural SheBelieves Cup is just another indication of the USWNT’s clout.

Normally, at this time of year, our girls would be trekking to the annual Algarve Cup in Portugal. But after having played 15 games at home, post-World Cup, with a record of 14-1-1, the reigning champs aren’t looking for competition overseas—they’re bringing it home.

“It’s for competition,” said Carli Lloyd, USWNT captain and 2015 FIFA Player of the Year. “The Algarve Cup has been great, but when the top five teams aren’t there…” Lloyd understands the significance of the event: She earned her first two career starts at Algarve Cup in 2006 and has competed with USWNT every year since then.

But staying now offers more for the team than going abroad. SheBelieves has brought in the top teams: Germany, France, England and the USWNT. “Fans lose a sense of where we are [at Algarve],” Lloyd said. “The games aren’t televised or streamed.”

This cup keeps the American team on familiar fields with familiar faces. The perks are endless—for instance, it’s another opportunity to give back and inspire the USWNT fans. “I’m excited that [the SheBelieves Cup] is in the U.S.,” said Randy Waldrum, Dash head coach. “Selfishly we’ll get [Lloyd and Brian] back in Houston that much quicker.”

Lloyd and midfielder Morgan Brian signed on to the Houston Dash for the 2015 season, but their time in Houston has been limited due to their place on the national team. “We miss them a big portion of last season…and it’s going to be a bit more of the same this season,” Waldrum said. “But it’s a good problem to have.”

Together, Lloyd and Brian bring in colossal international experience. And for the younger girls, “they grew up idolizing (Lloyd).” She’s both a source of inspiration as well as leadership. And Brian, whose collegiate record bears accolades such as two-time Hermann Trophy winner (think Heisman for soccer), started playing for USWNT during her junior year, only three years ago.

“Since we got those two, it’s been a continual boom,” Waldrum said. “It brought one more big star to the city of Houston.”

The girls have been invited with open arms to Astros games, Texans pre-season practices and even City Hall, where former mayor Annise Parker proclaimed August 25th “Houston Dash Women’s World Cup Day.” And the fans are gearing up too: Waldrum says season ticket sales are already up.

“The fans are great,” Lloyd said. “Getting to play the Olympic qualifying match in Houston…the fans were so encouraging—it felt like home.”

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