Reissue: Ebony Salmon on her 'unfinished business' in the NWSL

Another one from the vault. 14 months ago, I saw down with Ebony Salmon to talk about why she chose to move to the Houston Dash.

This article was written in June 2022 and was originally published on The Striker. But in light of English forward Ebony Salmon signing with her hometown club Aston Villa last week, I thought I would re-share this one-on-one interview I did with the forward in Texas.

After signing with Houston, Salmon went on to score nine goals in 11 matches and lead the Dash to its first-ever NWSL playoff appearance. It was the second-highest goal tally for a player in a single season at the Texas club. She also got her first England call-up in 18 months but just missed out on the 2023 World Cup squad.
Salmon remains one of my favourite players to watch in all of football at the moment. It’s a shame will no longer be playing in the NWSL. But that league’s loss is the English WSL’s gain.

All the best Ebs. Enjoy.

Ebony Salmon is used to making a big entrance. In June 2021, the Englishwoman famously scored a dazzling goal just one minute into her NWSL debut. Her first four sophisticated touches in the United States are etched into the memory of many soccer fans across the world.

On that day, Salmon carved open Katie Naughton and the Houston Dash defense at the Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville. She breezed past multiple Houston players as if they weren’t there on route to sealing a 1-0 win for Racing Louisville. The goal even topped the SportsCenter Top 10 that day.
One year later, those opponents are Salmon’s new teammates. On Monday, the Dash announced it had traded up to $190,000 of allocation money to Racing in exchange for Salmon and Houston had extended the 21-year-old’s contract until the end of 20231. Salmon arrived in the Bayou City last Thursday and took part in two Dash training sessions over the weekend. Believe it or not, 72 hours into being a Houston player, the Dash players are yet to broach the subject of reminiscing about that goal in Louisville last June.

“Honestly, no one's mentioned it,” said Salmon with a smile, speaking to The Striker at Houston Sports Park. “If they do remember it, they haven't mentioned it.”

Joining a club midseason can be difficult when a team already has an established dynamic and has done so much bonding. But Salmon says she has already had some of those adjustment fears dispelled.

“All the girls have been so welcoming, which has been really nice," she said. "I think that's one of the main things that you can worry about coming into a new team, especially when it's a team that has been together for six months already.”

Salmon says that her first few days in Houston have been a revitalizing experience. The move to Houston comes after many frustrating months in Louisville where the forward admits that she “wasn't very happy.”

Despite making an instant impact in her first season for Racing in 2021, and leading the team in goals with six, Salmon had found herself on the outside looking in this season. After nine matches of the 2022 regular season, she has accumulated just 75 minutes and zero starts for Louisville.

For Salmon, the hardest part of this season so far has been processing the explanations from Louisville head coach Kim Björkegren2 in regards to why she hasn’t been able to break into the team. “There were questions to be asked there, and I asked questions multiple times and didn't really get the answer that I wanted or a definitive answer that I agreed with, which was frustrating. But then you have to agree with the coach's opinion,” said Salmon.

Early on in the season, Salmon had hoped to fight for her place. Up until a few weeks ago, she still believed she could return to being a key contributor for Louisville.

“I wanted to stick it out and give it a chance to prove myself. I think I was at a point where I'd kind of given it long enough. I'm not going to play here. I need to go somewhere where I am going to play and where I'm valued.”

Once Björkegren had decided Salmon wasn’t a part of his plans, Louisville general manager James O’Connor began seeking out potential trade partners. Although O’Connor brought the idea of being traded to her, Salmon was very much on board with moving on to a new club and had internally been contemplating a transfer.

Salmon says her communication with Björkegren broke down even more over the past few weeks.

“Kim [Björkegren] didn't speak to me once about any of it. The only time I spoke to him was when I initiated a conversation saying that I want to go elsewhere because I'm not getting the minutes here and I don't feel like I'm going to get the minutes. As soon as James [O’Connor] mentioned the trade to me, there was no communication between me and Kim after that." said Salmon.

Having grown up playing in England’s FA Women’s Super League, a move back to Europe was of interest to Salmon. But for a foreign club to sign her, she would need to have been bought out of her Louisville deal. Alternatively, she could have left for a European team in the fall when her Racing contract expired, but she would be entering midseason.

There was also a feeling of unfulfilled potential. After lighting up the league in her debut season only to then disappear in her sophomore year, Salmon believes she has “unfinished business” in the NWSL.

“I think I've still got a lot to do out here before I think about going back to England,” said Salmon confidently.

Once Salmon and her agent had decided that the NWSL was where she wanted to be, they just had to make sure Houston was the right fit. What became essential was understanding that the Dash had faith in her beyond just this season.

In Salmon’s opinion, the transfer then started to move very “quickly.” The Dash was the first NWSL club to reach out once interest was communicated around the league. After Salmon spoke with Dash assistant general manager Carlos Martinez-Gloria and interim head coach Juan Carlos Amoros, she was sold on becoming a Houston player.

“The interest they showed was that they really wanted me, they really valued me. The ambitions of the club are also kind of similar to mine,” said Salmon.

Any lingering questions over whether the Dash had long-term plans for Salmon were answered emphatically by the Texas club when it immediately handed the forward a contract extension.

“It made sense for me to extend as well because I feel like this club is going in the right direction and to be a part of that is only going to be a good thing. I'm most excited about getting back to playing and fighting for a spot. I can't wait to be like a part of it and a part of this team,” said Salmon.

Having played for six different clubs by the age of 21, I was curious to know if Salmon could envision herself bucking the trend and staying in Houston beyond 2023.

"I want to solidify myself within a team and be on that team for whatever it is: three, four, or five years. But I think it's definitely too soon for me to speak on Houston. I've only been here two days," she responded.

At least for now, Salmon isn't worrying too much about the future. "I'm trying not to think that far ahead and put that too much pressure on myself. I think there's a little bit of added pressure with that to come in and do what they've been doing because they've all been performing really well."

The short-term logic behind trading for Salmon makes a lot of sense. Almost the entire Dash forward line is away on international duty this summer and will miss crucial NWSL matches. Salmon walks straight into a Houston team where she is the most accomplished number nine.

If the Dash is going to finally make the NWSL playoffs for the first time in its history, it will need Salmon to come in and make the instant impact that she has become renowned for. How she performs over these next three or four matches could prove to be pivotal for Houston's fortunes in 2022.

The good news for Dash fans is that Salmon is hungry, eager, and rearing to go. She is ready to take all her exasperation from Louisville and transform it into excellence in Houston.

"I'm taking my anger from not playing in Louisville and I'm going to show what I can do here when I get on the pitch."

  1. Salmon would go on to play 29 matches, scoring 10 league goals and notching two assists, for the Houston Dash across the 2022-23 NWSL seasons. Then, she departed for Aston Villa in September 2023.

  2. Kim Björkegren disputes that he did not talk to Salmon after the trade became clear, and in his opinion disagrees with Salmon’s view of events. The Louisville club reached out to categorically say he has been mischaracterized in this article.