The Portland Thorns feel they owe their fans for showing up in throngs for the inaugural National Women's Soccer League season.
A championship would be the best kind of thank you.
Ellertson ready to face friend
The prospect of battling Abby Wambach on Saturday adds to the anticipation for Vancouver native Tina Ellertson.
“I spent a ton of my pro career practicing against Abby. I credit her for my growth as a defender. Going up against her day in and day out is not an easy task but I do believe it made me better,” Ellertson said.
Ellertson and the Portland Thorns take on Wambach and the Western New York Flash in the first National Women’s Soccer League championship game at 5 p.m. Saturday in Rochester, N.Y.
Since joining the Thorns on July 31, Ellertson has appeared in four matches, playing 54 minutes as a second-half substitute on defense for Portland.
Facing a friend like Wambach with a championship on the line is exciting, Ellertsdon said.
“Many of her goals come from headers, so keeping track of her in and around the box is one of the biggest challenges she poses. She plays great back to goal and has a high work rate. She is a player that you have to know where she is at all times.”
To win it, the Thorns will need to topple a Western New York team shooting for a fourth championship in four years -- in four different leagues. It's a challenge the Thorns relish, no one more than Alex Morgan.
Morgan hasn't played since suffering a knee injury on Aug. 7 at Boston. She is expected to play Saturday, in a stadium where as a rookie she helped the Flash win the 2011 Women's Professional Soccer title.
"It'll be really nice to win at their home," Morgan said. "I wanted it (in Portland), obviously. I wanted our fans to enjoy it and I wanted to celebrate with them."
The NWSL's first championship match features teams that tied in both regular-season matches, with each team scoring only once over 180 minutes of soccer. But Western New York coach Aaren Lines noted that both teams were playing for the fourth time in 11 days when they played to a scoreless draw on Aug. 10. Portland was missing Morgan.
"Last time neither team was fresh. (This time) you should see a top-class club game," Lines said. "With all the offensive talent that's on the field, I think you'll see a lot of exciting football."
With Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd on the Flash, and Morgan, Christine Sinclair and Tobin Heath on the Thorns, the match features many of the sport's biggest stars.
Wambach has 11 goals and eight assists, Lloyd 10 goals in 15 games. Morgan scored nine goals and had four assists in 18 games for Portland, and Sinclair added eight goals and two assists.
But both coaches said they arrived at this championship match because of unsung players up and down the roster.
"It'll be a great showcase for soccer. There are a lot of big names on the field, but you can't forget about all the other names out there," Thorns coach Cindy Parlow Cone said. "As we've shown, we've had some players with not as recognizable names really step up huge and be the heroes for us at times."
Western New York defeated Sky Blue 2-0 in the semifinals a week ago. The Thorns' semifinal was more dramatic. They fell behind 2-0 at FC Kansas City but rallied with goals from Heath, Tiffany Weimer and Allie Long to win 3-2 in overtime.
The confidence and momentum from that kind of triumph sends Portland to Rochester with plenty of belief.
"It shows us that no matter what hand we're dealt, whatever happens in the game, we can fight back, we can battle through anything," Parlow Cone said.
Dublin Down Irish Pub, 813 Main Street, is the Vancouver Thorns pub. Thorns FC and Rose City Riverters supporters group will hold an all-ages viewing party at Bagdad Theater, 3702 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd. in Portland.
Thorns at Flash
- 5 p.m. Saturday, Sahlen Stadium (capacity 13,800) in Rochester, N.Y.
- ON TV: Fox Soccer Channel (Comcast 401, DirectTV 619, Dish 390) and Fox Sports 2 (DirectTV 618, Dish 398).
- Webstream: FoxSoccer2Go.com.