Ella Masar interview: Showtime at the Dash – Houston forward takes the floor

Photo: Houston Dash
Photo: Houston Dash

A player familiar to many in women’s soccer, forward Ella Masar is helping to create the opening scenes of the Houston Dash story, and the script so far has captured her like no other.

The second season of the National Women’s Soccer League began last month and it did so with one more team than 2013’s eight-strong line-up. The Houston Dash became the ninth professional club in US women’s soccer’s premier competition and after beginning with a narrow 1-0 loss at home to champions Portland Thorns they got their very first win a week later.

A 3-2 victory against the Boston Breakers at Harvard Stadium was joyously celebrated by players and staff who’d travelled from Texas and Ella had the honour of scoring their first ever goal. The Illinois-born former Paris Saint-Germain and Chicago Red Stars attacker followed up Tiffany McCarty’s shot to bring the score to 1-1. Two late goals from Mexican international Teresa Noyola ultimately secured the three points and made the mood on the flight home infinitely more jubilant.

The home opener for the Dash at BBVA Compass Stadium against Portland drew a crowd of 8,097 and there is a buzz of excitement around the team, with the backing of Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo to enjoy too. Ella has represented the US at Under-21, Under-23 and senior level and although she only turned 28 in April she is one of the more experienced players in the league. She describes her strongest learning experience from her career so far and illustrates why this latest chapter has been so important to her as a result.

“I think (soccer) has been my biggest heartbreak. I mean it’s something that you love to do and you can work as hard as you can but it comes down to someone else’s decision if you play.

“I think Houston has been the best for me to relive and remember why I love the game. As I look back, there’s definitely times I could have quit or walked away.

“Right now, I don’t think I’ve enjoyed the game as much as I do at this moment.”

Ella was selected by the Dash in the 2014 NWSL Expansion Draft from Chicago Red Stars. She scored three goals and added two assists while with the Red Stars last season and it was a team she knew well, having featured for them in Women’s Professional Soccer and the WPSL Elite.

During the 2013 campaign, supporters got the opportunity to learn a lot more about Ella and her teammates through ‘The Ella and Carm Show’. For the first few episodes, Ella and Canadian international defender Carmelina Moscato would have players from the Red Stars join them on the show while they asked quiz questions and came up with numerous other segments.

Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod was on the show early on and she sang Rihanna’s ‘Stay’ at the end of the third episode while Ella played the keyboard (and Carm threw in some backing vocals!). When Carm was traded to the Boston Breakers at the end of June, besides making Ella emotional in front of the camera it also meant a change to ‘The Ella and Erin Show’.

Erin is now a teammate of Ella’s at Houston and she shared her music love and more in her interview on here while with the Red Stars last season. When I put the question to Ella of whether she has ever had to sing in front of teammates in her career she made reference to her show with the Dash’s vocally-blessed shot-stopper.

“No, but I have had to play a guitar. Erin McLeod on our team, she has an amazing voice, so we’ve done a couple shows together where I play the piano or guitar.

“I get stage fright for sure, armpits start sweating and everything!”

 

From left to right: Erin McLeod, Carmelina Moscato and Ella.
From left to right: Erin McLeod, Carmelina Moscato and Ella.

 

Starting each of Houston’s four games so far, Ella has been integral to how former University of Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum has set out his team. As is easy to see from the videos she has produced alongside her teammates, she brings a lot in terms of character and spirit.

Last season, Ella was beatboxing and had the guitar out while Erin McLeod sang ‘Undertow’ by Timbaland (featuring The Fray and Esthero). When I asked which of her career teammates she would record a cover of a song with, Ella brought up an idea. Speaking before midfielder Nikki Washington’s April 29th trade to the Boston Breakers (which has seen Canada’s Kaylyn Kyle move to the Dash), she included her in a musical vision!

“Actually Erin and I just did for our show ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ by Jessie J, an acoustic version, so I was playing the guitar and she was singing. Maybe if we got Teresa (Noyola) or Nikki Washington on the drums, that would be a good start.

“Everyone has hidden talents. A couple girls on our team play the drums so we might get a Houston Dash band going.

“That’s on-record so you better watch out; you’re like the first to know about us!”

The latest episode of Ella and Erin’s show saw a lip sync battle between them and the Dash’s American-raised, Mexican duo Teresa Noyola and Arianna Romero. The latter of those has been having a say in the team’s locker room music, and so too was the aforementioned new Boston Breakers signing.

“It’s a mix – right now it’s between Nikki Washington and Ari (Arianna Romero). I would say I do it but I’m the oldest one so my music taste might be a bit different from theirs.

“They’re pretty good at finding the good ones. Country isn’t being played so it’s a win-win right now!”

Erin and Ella ended their latest show by dedicating Jessie J’s ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ to Nikki Washington as the Texas native gets set to return to Boston after a 2011 spell with the Breakers. Ella was on guitar for that performance but she has started working on a new addition to her instrumental repertoire! The ex-Washington Freedom player also describes the artists and genres she enjoys the most.

“I got a banjo for my birthday so I’m just trying to learn that right now. I’ve been listening this week to Sam Smith; he can really sing.

“I’m definitely more of an r&b type of girl, and then Mumford and Sons. I’m not really a fan of the heavy metal stuff.

“Let’s see, the best concert I’ve been to was Beyonce, and then Alicia Keys. This is not a proud moment of mine, I did go see Miley Cyrus, and when she came down riding the hotdog some respect went out the window, but she’s still an artist and I think that’s the coolest job in the world.”

A USASA National Women’s Open championship winner with Chicago Red Stars in 2012, Ella was also amongst the top scorers in WPS while with the club back in 2010, netting eight. The Red Stars posted a ‘Throwback Thursday’ reminder last year of Ella’s rap about the team. That was done in the style of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme and it certainly would have made interesting listening and viewing had she performed it to the tune of the first single she ever bought.

“Blackstreet ‘No Diggity’. I listened to that from start to finish.”

Number 14 for the Dash is a midfielder who was an NWSL winner with Portland Thorns last year, though she had to sit out the final couple of months with an ACL tear. She has since returned to action with the Dash and although her midfield quality is an asset, Ella named her as the most questionable of her teammates for singing ability!

“Becky Edwards – I love the kid to death but she’s probably the most tone-deaf I’ve ever heard in my life! I don’t even know if she knows it, so I’m sorry Bec!”

When music hits the mark in the build-up to a game it can send motivation and excitement through the roof. On the flipside, the wrong kind of vibe can mess with your preparation a little bit! For Ella, one of her former defensive teammates, born in Colorado, would come up with something that didn’t quite get her in the zone on game day.

“Taryn Hemmings at Chicago – because she’s such a country fan. She was my roommate as well so she’d always make us listen to that to a game.

“I think we both gave each other some headaches!”

During 2011/12, Ella ventured to France to join Paris Saint-Germain of the Division 1 Féminine. While with PSG she struck six goals and played alongside Portland Thorns midfielder Allie Long, who discussed music, teammates and soccer on here last year.

Houston Dash coach Randy Waldrum has identified the leadership Ella can provide to the team, as well as linking up with the likes of incredibly promising US Under-23 forward Kealia Ohai. Waldrum has previously talked of how his squad has something to prove to teams who may have let them go, and that collective determination may just prove invaluable to the Dash.

 

Photo: Mike Gridley / Boston Breakers
Photo: Mike Gridley / Boston Breakers

 

Team spirit is everything, no matter what the expectations of a club are, and the Dash will have US Women’s National Team defenders Whitney Engen and Meghan Klingenberg to join once Swedish side Tyresö FF’s Champions League campaign ends after their final with VfL Wolfsburg on May 22nd. Following the opening loss to Portland Thorns and the win at Boston Breakers, the Dash were beaten 2-0 away to leaders Seattle Reign before a 4-0 defeat at home to FC Kansas City last night (Saturday May 3rd).

Ella, who won a cap for the US when replacing Amy Rodriguez against Germany in October 2009, is more than up for the challenge this year with the league’s newest team. Happiness off the field is also vital for any player and she has her reasons to smile in Houston.

“I think it’s been great. It’s different from Chicago, they say (Houston’s) the fourth biggest city but it’s so spread out whereas Chicago’s pretty compact.

“I’m a foodie so there’s been some incredible food, especially at hole in the wall Mexicans, so I’m a happy camper right now.”

A basketball player in her time at Urbana High School back home, Ella went on to major in Community Health at the University of Illinois. She also has a brother (Tyson) and two sisters (Seredy and Ella’s twin Liza).

After the end of the 2013 NWSL season she headed to Copenhagen to join up with B93/HIK/Skjold. Unfortunately, an administrative error meant that her stay in Denmark was without playing time, but the setting and those she shared the experience with ensured it was far from a wasted trip.

Ella has also played in Norway in the past with LSK Kvinner and as well as guitar lessons over there she took her book of 90s love songs to play on the piano! Regardless of your profession, it is necessary to find a way to switch off and relax at points in your free time. The life of a soccer player, or indeed any athlete, is typically intense and Ella is not the first to turn to music to give her some escape.

“I think playing music is when I get lost. Like I said, I just got a banjo for my birthday so it’s a bit different.

“There’s a piano at our place as well so I think that’s been the biggest thing to stop thinking about football and to really step back, so that’s what I do.”

I like to wrap up each interview on here by getting the player to look back on those who have made the biggest impression on them in their career. The interviewee is asked to put themselves in a fantasy 5-a-side team and to choose four of the best they have ever played alongside to fill the line-up.

Each of Ella’s four choices carries worthwhile reasoning and there is extra feeling behind her selection in midfield. The player is a much-loved part of the Dash team and she is currently in the early days of her road back from a torn ACL suffered in the season opener. Here is Ella to run through her team!

“Keeper, easy, is Erin (McLeod). I think she’s world-class and as a professional alone she’s probably the best I’ve been around.

“Defender – Amy LePeilbet. In our US team, we played next to each other and she’s incredible when she’s healthy.

“Midfielder – I love Brittany Bock. I mean, for me, just what she possesses in the game and it’s a lot of off-the-pitch as well as on.

“How hard she works and how much of an enforcer she is has been incredible. Then up top, I would have to say…this one’s a tough one.

“Up top, probably Cristiane from Brazil. I’ve never seen someone with her type of ability before.

“When she wants to work she’s top class.”

Follow me on Twitter: @chris_brookes

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