The closer for Portland Thorns FC wasted little time injecting herself into the National Women’s Soccer League championship game.
When Vancouver’s Tina Ellertson entered Saturday’s match in the 63rd minute, the first thing she did was tell the referee that Abby Wambach was diving — the soccer term for players who fall over easily in an effort to earn a free kick. Next, Ellertson knocked Wambach to the turf.
“She needs to know I’m there,” Ellertson said, explaining the tactic of playing physical against one of the world’s best goal scorers.
The day after Thorns beat Western New York 2-0 in Rochester, N.Y., to capture the first NWSL crown, Ellertson said she received a text message from Wambach — a former teammate and a player Ellertson respects “so, so much” — expressing how she hates playing against Ellertson.
Reactions like that from other players, the appreciation of her Thorns teammates, and the support from Thorns fans told Ellertson that coming out of retirement to join the Thorns for the final month of the season was among the best decisions of her life.
A first-round draft pick of the Thorns as part of the team-building process, Ellertson chose not to sign with the team.
Her commitment to her family and to her job as a coach for FC Salmon Creek youth soccer club outweighed any urge to give professional soccer one more shot after more than a year away from the game.
But as the season progressed, Thorns coach Cindy Parlow Cone and several of Ellertson’s friends on the Thorns — including goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc — kept telling Ellertson she was needed.
So on July 31, the final day teams were allowed to add players, Ellertson signed with the Thorns.
Not fit enough to play a full match, Ellertson’s role was to come on late in games and solidify the Thorns defense with energy and athletic ability. The 30 minutes she played in Saturday’s title match were the most she played in five appearances.
“I wasn’t tired,” she said. “I felt good. I felt more like myself out there.”
Ellertson was told at halftime she would play, but was called upon earlier than expected after defender Kat Williamson was ejected from the match, forcing the Thorns to defend a 1-0 lead with only 10 players.
“What I thought was, ‘My team needs me to be calm. They need my voice. They need me to let them know it’s going to be OK,’ ” Ellertson said.
Ellertson called herself blessed to share the Thorns’ championship run with determined teammates who battled from two goals down in the semifinals, and overcame injuries and a string of road games to finish as champions.
Returning to the role of mom to 12-year-old McKenzie and 5-year-old Mya, and to her job coaching three teams at FC Salmon Creek, Ellertson hopes she played a small role in something that will have lasting impact.
“I’m just praying that this (league) can stick, that this can be normalcy for girls growing up to have a professional league to look to,” Ellertson said.
Her month with the Thorns also convinced the player dubbed the team’s closer is not yet finished.
“I’m playing next year,” Ellertson said. “The whole year.”