Rivals united: Polkinghorne and Nairn's Houston challenge
Houston Dash has a problem – the National Women's Soccer League outfit are the only inaugural club yet to make the playoffs in the USA's top flight.
But in signing leading internationals Clare Polkinghorne and Christine Nairn, two of the strongest competitors in the Westfield W-League, the Texas-based club is well-poised for a strong crack at a top-four finish.
Having faced off in Australia's top flight again in the season gone by, the hard-as-nails Australian defender and the masterful American midfielder will unite for the first time at the Dash.
Here's a look at how Polkinghorne and Nairn have gone from footballing foes to team-mates with a single aim.
Featured image courtesy of Houston Dash
Westfield W-League foes, NWSL friends
Names: Clare Polkinghorne and Christine Nairn
Westfield W-League clubs: Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory
NWSL club: Houston Dash
Weren’t they just rivals playing for two of the Westfield W-League’s biggest clubs?
Yes, Westfield Matildas defender Clare Polkinghorne had to use all her experience to shackle the influence of American maestro Christine Nairn when Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory faced off in one of the most memorable matches of the 2018/19 season in December.
So, what’s changed?
Polkinghorne will be doing everything in her power to make life a little easier for Nairn, rather than stifle her progress. The pair are teammates with Houston Dash for the upcoming 2019 NWSL campaign, and are likely to play a key role if the Texas-based club are to reach their maiden playoffs appearance.
What happened when Polkinghorne and Nairn locked horns?
Fate ensured the Dash duo met just once during the Westfield W-League season, but what a classic contest it was. Polkinghorne’s Brisbane came out on top 4-3 in December 2018's rain-soaked thriller.
Did they do anything on the day?
Yes. Nairn scored an absolute peach of a free-kick to cancel out Allira Toby's opener – a sensational curling effort which looped over the wall Polkinghorne was marshalling. But the veteran defender had the last laugh, playing a vital role in Roar’s third and ultimately directing her side to the win.
Wasn’t that third a Natasha Dowie own goal?
Well, yes. But it was Polkinghorne’s presence which pressured Victory's Dowie into misjudging the flight of a Brisbane corner and nodding the ball past Victory keeper Casey Dumont. Given the way the Roar players mobbed Polkinghorne in the aftermath it did initially resemble a trademark header from the Australia international.
Polkinghorne may have edged Nairn there, but who emerged victorious in the long run?
That would be Maryland-born midfielder Nairn. The Victory star, who began her Westfield W-League career in 2014, was a huge force to be reckoned with for Jeff Hopkins' side this season.
Was 2018/19 Nairn’s best season Down Under?
Arguably. Her peers certainly thought so, voting her Players’ Player of the Season in February, a night on which she also earned the Westfield W-League Victory medal. She was directly involved in nine of Victory’s 23 goals scored in the regular season, with five goals and four assists for the Premiers.
Interesting. How did she go in the Finals Series?
Nairn handed Victory a semi-final lead against Perth Glory after catching goalkeeper Eliza Campbell astray at the near post from a tight angle. If it wasn't for a Sam Kerr-led Glory comeback, Nairn might have helped fire Melbourne within touching distance of a remarkable double.
What about Polkinghorne’s campaign with Roar?
It just wasn’t to be for Brisbane, who were dumped out at the semi-final stage by Sydney FC. But Polkinghorne was the bed rock of a Roar side that conceded just 17 goals in the regular season, the league’s third-best record. She made an incredible 82 clearances, won 20 tackles, made 12 blocks and produced 31 interceptions at a rate of almost 2.5 per game.
So Polks and Nairn are bound for Texas. Tell me about their history in the NWSL?
The duo haven't played together before, but they are certainly no strangers to the USA’s premier competition. Nairn has been a part of the NWSL since its inaugural 2013 season with Seattle Reign and has also featured for Washington Spirit – where she was voted the club’s Most Valuable Player in 2016 – and most recently Orlando Pride, where she played alongside Westfield Matildas Emily van Egmond and Alanna Kennedy.
So Nairn is a seasoned NWSL veteran?
She is. This will be her seventh season at that level, and she has developed a knack for producing the spectacular. Exhibit A: this incredible volley in the video below.
What about Polkinghorne?
She might not know the NWSL as well as her Houston teammate, but Polkinghorne is as seasoned a professional as they come. The Westfield Matildas veteran began her US career with Portland Thorns in 2015, helping the side to a sixth-place finish. She had a couple of years away from the competition but returned in 2018 with the Dash, playing nine games as they fell five points short of the playoffs.
Can Polkinghorne and Nairn help break Houston's finals duck this season?
There’s a good chance. Coach James Clarkson boasts a roster dripping in Westfield W-League quality new and old, with experienced Westfield Matilda Kyah Simon, Adelaide United young gun Veronica Latsko and Sydney FC live-wire Sofia Huerta all on the books for 2019.