'Now I say y'all': Houston Dash original Brittany Bock reflects on NWSL club's 10th anniversary

The former footballer looks back on a decade of NWSL in Texas and her part in the launch. The highs, the lows, and the tunnel.

'Now I say y'all': Houston Dash original Brittany Bock reflects on NWSL club's 10th anniversary
10 years later, Brittany Bock is back at the Eado Soccer stadium | Courtesy of Houston Dash

A stadium's tunnel is seemingly an ordinary thing. But for a footballer it can hold more significance. Meaning that goes far beyond concrete, plastic, and coats of paint.

Every match begins with players and officials waiting in the tunnel. Walking through it. And then, finally, events conclude by passing back through the same corridor.

It cradles the game's beginnings and endings. It cradles the start and finish of careers. Dreams are realized, nightmares take hold. Football clubs are born, all on either side of the tunnel.

Brittany Bock in 2014, playing in the Houston Dash's inaugural NWSL match | Courtesy of Houston Dash

"It brings back so many memories"

Retired footballer Brittany Bock is back in an important tunnel. The one at Houston's Eado Soccer stadium, home of the Houston Dash. She runs her fingers along the walls and steps out onto the pitch. Memories swell. Emotions gather.

"It's painted differently, this is fun," remarks Bock, who is back in Houston this week for the 10th anniversary of the Dash's first-ever NWSL season.

The 37-year-old, who grew up in Illinois, was the first-ever player selected by the club in the 2014 expansion draft. After eight years as a professional, playing in the WPS, Sweden's Damallsvenskan, and the NWSL, she played two seasons in Houston making six appearances.

"When you're in the starting line up, you're going down there [to the tunnel], you're holding the little girl's head next to you. Just the opportunity that we had, in women's sports. And the gift that was. [Being in the tunnel] it brought up like that intense mode. Where your hands are sweating, and your heart's pumping, and you're like game-focused," Bock ruminated.

"Gladiator is one of my favorite movies. So I just think about it like you're going into battle. How your heart is pumping and adrenaline going. It brings back so many memories. It also brings back not always the greatest memories too."

Where the tunnel meets the pitch in Houston | Courtesy of Shell Energy Stadium

10 years ago, on April 12, 2014, Bock was in the starting XI for the first-ever Dash match in the club's history. An NWSL opening day tilt against the reigning champions, the Portland Thorns.

A little over 20 minutes into the inaugural match for Texas NWSL, the midfielder's knee buckled. On the club's opening night, Bock tore her ACL. But with all that adrenaline pumping, she was doing everything in her power to stay in the game.

Eventually, Allie Long would score the Thorns' only goal of the game in the moments after Bock was subbed out and replaced by Teresa Noyola. While the event was cruel, there is light in the dark.

"In that ACL moment, I remember thinking "did that just happen?". I then remember walking down that specific tunnel, and then seeing my Dad, because my parents had come to that game. And just the support and the love that no matter what I do, like no matter how I perform, like how loved who I am. So those are all the emotions that were going through my mind when I walked out there today.

"It kind of brings it full circle [being back at the stadium today]. I was praying about this, thinking about my whole soccer experience. And that just just knowing like, that was one of the last times I went out on the field."

A leader off the pitch

An injury-cut first year in Houston didn't stop Bock from contributing to the Dash's debut season. She was a leader in the dressing room and she was happy to hold the pressure of being a guiding presence.

"I think for any player that's ever gone through that it is a challenge mentally, physically, emotionally. I tried to stay together with the team knowing I was more of a veteran player in the league, and helping where I could. I think it's so important for players," Bock said.

"I mean, whether you're starting every single game as the star, or you are a bench player and you never see the field, you are one cohesive unit, and you need everybody. I just wanted to pour in and give everything that I could. It took some toll on me. But I just tried to show up every day."

Back then, there was so much time spent in the community. The excitement of a professional women's football team coming to Houston for the first time was palpable.

Even when she wasn't meant to be working, she was spreading the good word of the Dash. Houston, it's people, were everything.

"I really loved how the city took us in. I mean, there was a lot of hype around the city, and women's soccer and I just felt I would thrive on that. I remember walking around places, like on my own time, and I would see people, see soccer players, young soccer players, and I'd be like, "Hey, have you heard about the Dash?""

In 2014, players were on contracts ranging from $7,000 to $37,000. Many had local host families house them during the season to save on rent. Players washed their own kits, and changed in port-a-potties.

Bock admits that she felt very grateful at the time for what they had and that she is proud of the sacrifices the players of the past made. It has helped pave the way for much better standards in the NWSL today.

"The amenities are just becoming more and more accessible and incredible for these gals. And I hope it continues to grow. And I know it will. I'm just excited to see all the support of everyone, coaches, staff, fans, marketing, all of that, to see it grow," Bock said.

Brittany Bock today holding her 2014 Houston Dash shirt

"Now I say y'all"

In 2015, Bock made her comeback from the NWSL and amassed five appearances during that season. The Dash went unbeaten in those games, drawing three and winning two.

A hernia injury would end up cutting Bock's 2015 season short once again, but her final minutes in the NWSL saw Houston go out on a high by beating the Western New York Flash 2-0 at home. Walking down that tunnel one last time, with three points in her and the team's hands.

Despite just playing two seasons in the city of Houston, the diverse Texas charm left an everlasting impact on the Midwesterner.

"I kid you not, I say "y'all" all the time. I'm from the Midwest, so normally it is "you guys" and now I say y'all. Like all the time," Bock laughed. "The food. I mean the crawdads. And the Houston rodeo. I just really enjoyed it. I love the culture and the diversity and I'm not even a city person I live up in Winter Park, Colorado, now. So I'm in the mountains."

On Friday night, as the Dash celebrates the 10th anniversary of its inaugural match and season, Bock will walk onto the pitch to be honoured as an original member of that history-making 2014 team. A player who gave everything with open arms.

"To come here, Houston, and to see now 10 years later, how much it's continuing to grow and opportunities for these players. It's pretty wonderful."

The Houston Dash host the Washington Spirit live on Amazon Prime, Friday April 12, kick off 7:00 p.m. CT. You can get tickets here.