Kealia Watt Q/A: Amazon Prime's newest analyst on 10 years of the Dash and NWSL growth

10 years after appearing in the Houston Dash's first-ever match, Kealia Watt will begin her broadcast career back where it all started.

Kealia Watt Q/A: Amazon Prime's newest analyst on 10 years of the Dash and NWSL growth
Kealia Watt the club owner (2023), and the player (2014) | Courtesy of Burnley FC, Houston Dash

It will be a full-circle moment.

On the 10th anniversary of the Houston Dash's first-ever NWSL match, Kealia Watt (nÊe Ohai) will return to Texas to start a new journey. One as a sideline analyst for Amazon Prime, who are in their debut season producing 'Friday Night on Amazon' as part of the league's new broadcast deal.

On April 12, 2014, Watt started in that historic match against the Portland Thorns at Houston's Eado Soccer Stadium. The American forward was the first-ever college draft pick in the Dash's history, selected number two overall out of the University of North Carolina.

Across six seasons, she would go on to make 114 appearances for the Dash, the second-most in the club's history (behind Jane Campbell). Watt's goalscoring tally of 28 is also the second-best at the club (behind Rachel Daly), but she does boast more assists in a Houston shirt (16) than any other player. Just this week, the 32-year-old was named in the club's all-time XI voted for by the fans.

After leaving Houston for Chicago in 2020, Watt played two seasons for the Red Stars before stepping away from football to start a family in 2022 with her husband JJ, who played in the NFL. In 2023, the couple became investors in Burnley FC, in England, and Kealia will now begin her broadcast career on Friday night back where it all started.

Squad Depth sat down for a one-on-one with Kealia Watt to talk about her memories of Houston, what lured her to broadcasting & more.

SD: Alright, if you'll indulge me, I was wondering if we could kick off by you closing your eyes, and kind of centering yourself for 10 seconds. Just to try and take yourself back to 2014. What it was like walking into Houston for the first time and becoming a member of that team.

Kealia Watt: It's actually really emotional for me to think about. I had been visiting Houston for years and years with my sister, because my brother-in-law played with the Texans. So Houston was so important to me. And to be able to be drafted there, and then to start that first game at BBVA, which is one of the best stadiums in the league. It was just so surreal.

And you know, we were so nervous. We were an expansion team. We were I think I'm pretty sure we were playing Portland, I want to say it was Portland, who was such a powerhouse club. And it was incredible. It really was, it was a dream come true. And I miss it every single day. I wish I could go back to that day.

The 2014 Houston Dash, Kealia Watt in the front row second from left

SD: That match ended in a 1-0 defeat, and the season was difficult too. Eventually, the Dash finished bottom of the league with 18 points.

Obviously, it's not easy being an expansion team. But you're making history every step of the way, whatever you do. And how did you balance wanting to be the best version of yourself on the pitch, wanting to win games, with the pressure of making history as a club?

KW: That's a really, really good question. Because it was such a contrast of being so excited to be on this new team and to be drafted and then a rookie. But, especially back then, expansion teams had such a difficult time competing. It's different now, where you can get these players from all over.

That first year, and over the years, we had some really difficult losses. And we were playing these teams that had been together and had these stars. And so it was hard because you're so proud of yourself, you're putting everything into it. And you start to lose or you're losing these games, and also trying to grow the club, trying to grow and get better, get more fans some more tickets, and you're not always winning.

I'm glad the league has evolved a little bit in that way, so that expansion teams aren't just losing every game, you know, you see now they're competing, they have some of the best players in the entire league. So that has definitely changed.

SD: Totally. The NWSL has changed. Even since you left in 2022, let alone when you started in 2014. What would you say has been the biggest changes you've noticed in the league from the outside or perhaps from talking to current players?

KW: I mean, there have been so many changes. I was just saying that in my rookie year, I remember showing up to the field, no locker room, we washed our own clothes. After meetings, we would get back in our cars and drive home in our practice shorts.

At the beginning, it was changing very slowly. And I remember girls were very much just appreciative to have a league. It was very much like we needed to be thankful there's a league because it could fall at any moment.

And then, I remember probably around my fifth or sixth year, it started changing to where we started getting a voice. That was really led a lot by the women's national team. And they were fighting for equal pay. And so things started to shift. And then, as you said, in the last couple of years, women's sports have really exploded.

I think, two things have changed the league forever. Number one is the CBA [collective bargaining agreement] being passed. The players started getting paid more, players had a voice, you know, we had these standards that had to be upheld. And then, on the sponsorship side, these ownership groups that are so invested now. You've seen the valuations going just through the roof because people are willing to invest in women's sports.

I think those are two huge changes. We still have a long way to go. But this is a great start.

SD: This tees me up nicely to ask about your new role as part of this exciting new broadcast deal. The partnership with Amazon, I want to kind of maybe go back to when you were offered the role. And was there anything else you were thinking about doing before deciding on media?

KW: Yeah, I've always wanted to do something in journalism and broadcast journalism. I majored in that in college. The biggest thing for me was when I transitioned out of professional soccer I became a mom. So quickly, my husband retired. And we've been trying to figure out what we want to do and what we want our life to look like.

So it really was more of a decision do I want to do anything? Do I want just to disappear? And when this opportunity came up with Prime Video. I was just so excited. It was perfect for me, and they are so invested in growing women's sports and growing this league.

The quality of their broadcast so far, and the money they're putting into it. I believe they're the only broadcaster that has everyone at the game every single week, which is huge. I don't remember a single game I played where the broadcasters were in the booth, and reporters were at the game.

SD: What are you looking to offer both Prime Video and audiences as a broadcaster? Have you been thinking about what your style might be?

KW: Yeah, I am really interested in telling the stories of these girls because I think that the biggest challenge we have in the NWSL is that people don't know the players well enough. The ones we do know are on the national team, but there are so many other stories that need to be told that are so incredible. I have gotten to know these players, from playing with them and being in the league. I am excited to show the world how cool and incredible these players are.

SD: We're three weeks into the NWSL season, and Amazon's broadcasts. What have you liked most about the production so far? Because it does feel like we've just seen such an improvement in terms of quality and analysis.

KW: I think what has been so cool about Prime Video is they're really producing it like they produce 'Thursday Night Football' – which is such a great product. They do these fun clips building up to the match like they did that 'Cooler Kids' skit with Lori [Lindsey] and Mike [Watts].

And this week, you know, we've been brainstorming like, what can we do before the game? What cool clips, can we show? What skits can we do? And I think that that entertainment value is huge.

SD: After a couple of years, you're kind of stepping back into the headspace of the NWSL. What have you maybe enjoyed the most about having a bit of distance? And what have you missed the most?

KW: The biggest thing in sports in general, and especially in the NWSL, is that it is so up and down. Like each week, you're either in the worst mood ever or you're in the best mood ever. So it's really hard in sports.

My husband and I always say like, you will never get the highest of highs like you do, but you also aren't upset all the time because you're not performing well or your team lost. And so I think it has been nice for me because it's been so long of frustrations if things aren't going well.

But you know, I miss playing every single day. I miss the competitive nature of the game. I miss working towards being the best player I can be. And that's what I'm really looking forward to on Friday. To just be down on the field and see these players playing. That's going to be really cool to be back in that environment.

SD: Okay a quick one. Who was the best player you played with?

KW: That is a very hard question. Well, I have to say Alyssa Naeher is the best at her position that I played with. I think the player that I hated going against the most is probably Crystal Dunn.

I went to college with her [Dunn], we're good friends, but then I played against her for so many years. She is not fun to play against because she's so good defensively and then you turn around and she's scoring the other side. So, she's she's probably the best.

SD: In terms of accomplishments on the pitch, what would you say was the proudest moment of your career?

KW: I think the proudest moment I can think of was winning the U20 World Cup with the USA in 2012. But I think the proudest I've actually been in myself was coming back from my ACL. I had never had an injury before and I had no idea how difficult it was to come back. And my recovery was very up and down. So coming back from that was the most proud I've been in myself.

Kealia Watt celebrates scoring the winning goal for the USA against Germany in the U20 World Cup final in Japan, 2012 | Courtesy of U.S. Soccer

SD: Something I wanted to touch on is your return to Houston on Friday. The fans in Texas have a lot of affection for you but never really got to say goodbye. You left during the pandemic season, and then you never really had a career send-off after your injury in Chicago. I suppose, do you feel like Friday is kind of like a homecoming? Or will it bring some closure on your playing career?

KW: Yeah, I never really officially announced my retirement right? I never announced it because that's just how I am as a person. I kind of faded away. I miss the Dash so much and it is such a big part of my life. And Houston, I mean, I met my husband there. That is like the most pivotal time in my life and so it really means so much to go back and to get that closure.

I still follow the Dash, I follow the fans and they still have so many of the same fans. I feel like I know a lot of them personally. I still see them going to the games, then I'm sure they will be there on Friday. So, to see those people that will mean so much to me. That's going to be huge. I cannot wait for that.

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.