She arrived just after the match started.
Jaws dropped as the players on the bench first noticed her.
Soon, the players on the field saw her, too.
Her presence was a big deal, even though the team of 11- and 12-year-old soccer players from Clark County have a brush with greatnesss every day. After all, their coach is a professional soccer player and a former member of the United States Women’s National Team.
But their coach is not Hope Solo.
Vancouver’s own soccer star, Tina Ellertson, cannot help but laugh. She is the coach of the FC Salmon Creek Nemesis 99 and mother to one of the team’s players. Ellertson’s daughter, MacKenzie, has traveled the world, watching her mom excel on soccer’s biggest stage.
But Tina Ellertson understands human nature.
Sure, Ellertson was a two-time Pac-10 player of the year at the University of Washington. Yes, she played in a World Cup. But to MacKenzie, she is “Mom.”
Hope Solo on the other hand? Well, Hope is Hope Solo, one of the most famous athletes in the world.
“With me, it’s just ‘Oh, Mom,” Ellertson said, describing an 11-year-old’s reaction to her mother. “But when Hope shows up, she lights up. ‘It’s Hope!’ I love it. It’s fine.”
MacKenzie has known Solo practically her entire life. MacKenzie’s teammates got to meet her last week in Seattle, when Solo showed up to show her support. The Nemesis 99 were playing in the U.S. Club Soccer National Cup XI Northwest Regional tournament, and all of a sudden they had a special guest as an assistant coach.
“They were freaking out. They were going ballistic,” MacKenzie said. “One of the players on the field said, ‘Oh my goodness is that Hope Solo? Is she watching us?’ “
Sophie Landers, a 12-year-old from Vancouver, said she got a little bit more motivated.
“When I saw her, I felt like I needed to play better,” Sophie said.
Clearly it worked. The Nemesis won the match.
Ellertson and Hope Solo knew of each other for years, both playing youth soccer in Washington. They met in college, at the University of Washington. They would team up again on the national team, and that’s when they started hanging out more with one another.
“Now, we’re best friends,” Ellertson said. “Our relationship grew to be something really cool.”
As teammates, they finished third at the 2007 World Cup in China.
That was Ellertson’s only World Cup. She and her husband Brad welcomed a second child — Mya — in 2008.
Tina played two more years with the national team and continued to play professional soccer on three teams — all with Solo as a teammate.
Meanwhile, Solo made the leap into superstardom as the goalkeeper for Team USA.
So well-known, in fact, she was asked to compete on the popular television show “Dancing With The Stars.” Ellertson traveled to Los Angeles just about every week, supporting Solo’s efforts.
“Throughout our friendship, we’re always there for each other,” Ellertson said. “We always find a way to help each other.”
Solo makes certain that she sees MacKenzie play whenever her schedule allows. Or even find a weekend to get on the sideline to help coach the team.
That is how it came to be that last week the Nemesis got coaching assistance from the one and only Hope Solo.
Solo really got into it, too.
“I felt my pulse running up and down,” she said.
“Her halftime speech is what won us the game in the final,” Ellertson insisted. “She loves the game at all levels. She wants to help young girls be the best they can be.”
Sophie Landers said Solo’s stature certainly helped with her message. But it was just as important that the message felt genuine.
“We really listened to her and paid attention because we knew how important she was,” Landers said. “Everyone also felt noticed by her. She talked to all of us. We felt like she cared.”
Solo said she does.
“I want to be involved in giving female athletes more opportunities,” Solo said. “That’s our responsibility as professional athletes.”
Later in the evening, Solo and Ellertson had dinner and broke down the match as if they were preparing the team for international competition.
This week, Solo is preparing to leave for London and the Olympic Games.
Ellertson is home, parenting, coaching, and trying to make a tough decision. She said she is officially retired but just recently was asked to join a professional team for a four-week stretch.
“I’ve started this great new journey in life, coaching. I’ve had so much fun. I love being here. I love not getting on an airplane every week,” she said. “But soccer’s been the greatest love of my life.”
Soccer has given Ellertson a lifetime of memories and some of her most important relationships. Now she is using her experiences to open doors for the next generation. With a big help from a great friend.
MacKenzie remains impressed.
“It meant a lot to us for Hope to step out of her way and come watch our team play,” MacKenzie said. “She always has to do stuff. She’s so busy.”
The Olympics are coming up, but the Nemesis 99 from Clark County had a big week, too. For her friends, Hope Solo made it happen.
And she made a few girls freak out along the way.