Tina Ellertson’s curious journey to Portland’s roster

Richard Farley August 9, 2013 32
Defender Tina Ellertson was signed by Portland on July 31.

Defender Tina Ellertson was signed by Portland on July 31.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Late Wednesday in Somerville, Mass., Tina Ellertson made her Portland Thorns FC debut. Though the potential for her to sign had been discussed since slightly before the Feb. 7 Supplemental Draft, the 31-year-old’s place on Portland’s roster is far more than your typical draft-and-sign scenario. In some ways, it is one of the most bizarre acquisitions of the NWSL season, one that’s seen a former U.S. international, two years removed from her last playing days, occupy an unlikely place in head coach Cindy Parlow Cone’s plans.

Days before the Supplemental Draft – the six-round process that gave NWSL teams a chance to select from a pool of league-identified players – Ellertson had made it known via Twitter that she planned to skip the season for family reasons. The tweets echoed what she had told people in Portland, where she is active in the youth soccer scene. Portland, however, elected to select Ellertson with the process’s eighth overall pick – their first of that draft. Cone later confirmed the team had been in touch with Ellertson prior to making the selection.

Despite the coach’s confidence, Ellertson was not with the team when training camp assembled in March, yet despite the eventual emergence of rookie central defender Kathryn Williamson, the team’s pursuit continued. Throughout the season, Thorns FC stayed in touch with Ellertson, even though the Vancouver, Wash., native was still telling people throughout the area that she had no intention of playing. Despite prominent players within Portland’s squad reaching out personally, Ellertson stayed away.

That’s why her July 31, roster deadline day signing was such a surprise, but as details have emerged regarding her addition, the story has become even more curious. Right up until the signing, Ellertson was still privately maintaining her stand that she wouldn’t play, and it was unclear she was taking part in any soccer-related activity beside coaching youth soccer. A source familiar with situation said Ellertson hadn’t trained with the team before signing ahead of that night’s game against visiting Sky Blue FC. Remarkably, she was one of the 18 players Cone elected to dress for the match. (She did not play.)

The next time Ellertson was with the team was Tuesday in Boston, even though the Thorns played a game the previous Sunday in Portland. In the interim, Ellertson was away from the team, traveling away for personal reasons (a pre-existing youth soccer commitment, according to sources). She didn’t take part in any previous training sessions and traveled separately from the team ahead of their Wednesday game at Boston. When she was brought on for Mana Shim in the 86th minute at Dilboy Stadium, Ellertson was making one of her first appearances on the same field as her teammates, be that in training of during a game.

Adding to the curiosities is how she was used on Wednesday, though the decision makes a certain kind of sense. In replacing Shim while the team trailed 2-1 (in a game Portland had identified as a must-win if they were to maintain a chance at home-field advantage), Ellertson was coming on for the Thorns’ hottest goal-scorer, somebody who’d scored four times in her previous five games. The move became even more curious when Ellertson, a defender (albeit a converted one) was played as a striker – an uncommon but not unheard of tactic when trailing teams are forced to play more direct. The usage served as a strangely appropriate cap to a Ellertson’s unique courtship.

It speaks to the regard Cindy Parlow Cone has for the former WPS All-Star that the Thorns have been so persistent in their pursuit. And Ellertson, for her part, may have started doing work on the side between the time she was telling people in Portland she didn’t intent on playing and her decision to join the team.

But between her late decision, personal commitments, and Portland’s travel, Friday’s training in Rochester will be Ellertson’s first practices with the team, one day before a game that could determine home field advantage in the league’s opening playoff round.

  • Ron Bishop

    Perhaps it’s something beyond our understanding…

    • Rufan

      It sure is not for the money!

  • dt

    CPC draft was confusing. Most of her team is full of discovery players as she didn’t keep most of the players she drafted. You look at the other teams in the league, they kept their drafted players.

    • Steglitz49

      Because no other team wanted to draft Amber Brooks, her having signed with Bayern Munich, Portland picked her late in the process. Should Amber chose to return from the knödel and schwammelsuppe of Bavaria, she belongs to Portland. Quite clever really.

  • kernel_thai

    Was Doughrety unavailable due to injury? She didnt start and was a more logical person to bring on for Shim.

    The other thing I found interesting about this curious journey was if Portland was going to put Washington on IR to free up a spot (I assume the league granted them an exemption), I would have guessed they would fill it with GK Cris Lewis. The only game that LeBlanc missed (CANNT duty), Lewis was brought in from the reserve team to play GK. If LeBlanc gets injured, Adie Gay could be making her NWSL debut in the playoffs.

  • Terry Lash

    CPC’s management of players is at best unusual. At worst it could be argues the coach does not have good ideas and someone else should take over.

    • Lorehead

      I don’t know anything that’s going on behind the scenes, but I don’t have confidence in her at this point.

      • Steglitz49

        In English soccer, when the chairman of the board says that he has full confidence in the manager (head coach), it is a coded signal that that person is on the way out.

        Are we to conclude that your lack of confidence in CPC means that her job is secure (for now)?

        • Lorehead

          No, because I’m not the chairman of the board.

  • wosofan

    “hadn’t trained or played with squad prior to her 88th-minute appearance Wednesday.” That’s just bizarre. It could make a bit more sense if she’d been playing all year for another team, or if she were an unusually talented attacking player like Marta, or if she’d played with the Thorns during prior season, or if it were a meaningless game. But, obviously, her case fit none of the above.

    Anyway, kudos to Richard for the reporting. Looking for more inside information about the Thorns’ season — there has to be some interesting behind-the-scenes stuff going on there. Foxhoven gave us fans just a taste of that, with her pointed comments last Sunday. Really curious what Paulson is thinking as all this unfolds.

    • MMMM

      Regardless of prior training, why replace Mana Shim with ANY defender when you’re down 2-1 in a critical match?

      • Silver Frost

        Coaches notice when a player is worn out.

        • MMMM

          Still doesn’t make sense to put in a defender for an attacker when you need points late in the match. She had better options.

  • Elaine

    I’ve stopped trying to figure out Cone’s decisions so far this season. If there was an award for most confounding coach in the league, she would win it hands down.

    • Silver Frost

      Somebody like legendary Tony DiCicco, but he is getting on in years and has probably had it with pro soccer coaching.

      • Steglitz49

        Dennerby has just taken on a men’s side, so he is not available either (though he did have a strange preference for mercurial goalies).

      • kernel_thai

        Well obviously a big step down but he lobbied pretty hard to get the USWNT job last fall.

        • Steglitz49

          Were I a coach, I would prefer one of the better college sides than an NWSL team. Self-evidently, I would love to manage a NT, but there are not too many of those, unfortunately.

  • nwslfan

    if Ellertson is game fit, wouldn’t a mature, capable defender/ex-forward help FTFC? courtship story to get her to sign w club is indeed mysterious…

    • Silver Frost

      Cone subs in a defender to play striker, with no practice time. Brilliant. How did it work out?

      • nwslfan

        to clarify, IF (and only if) Ellertson is game fit, then Ellertson has qualities that can help the Portland club heading down the stretch into playoffs. I wasn’t commenting on the Shim substitution in the boston game. (Boston’s video vendor has not once successfully processed my visa card, so I couldn’t see the game.) I don’t know who played Shim’s position when she subbed out, etc.

        • Steglitz49

          Has Boston done anything right this season, except beating Portland (without Alex) just now?

          • Silver Frost

            Boston is making a star out of Sanderson, with possible England NT implications for WC 2015, but only if Powell gets the sack.

          • Steglitz49

            Excellent. Does Powell dislike playing foreign based players? Or is it Sanderson personally?
            (Though it needs to be handled diplomatically, it is difficult to see Powell having any significant influence on the English NT in the future. It was a pretty poor Euro-13 by any standards.)

          • hercircumstance

            They have a history of dislike apparently. Sanderson won’t play for her. It has nothing to do with what league Sanderson is playing in. If only all the other English players would take that stance with Powell they might have gotten rid of her after she was horrible in the last WC (remember her PK comments —- what a joke coach!). Instead they kept with her and under performed in the Olympics and Euro13. If they want to keep losing stick with Powell.

          • Steglitz49

            Lianne Sanderson is a young lady much to be admired. She is the Li of JoLi Academy. More power to her elbow.

            In WC-11, England was the only team to beat Japan, who became world champs. Unlike Sweden, who beat USA, the English lasses returned empty-handed, as did their conquerors, France.

          • Elizabeth

            They also beat Portland with Alex Morgan earlier in the season. Also WNY Flash as well.

          • Steglitz49

            Thank you. It is a curious situation. Boston has scored as many goals as KC. They are only bested by WNY by one measly goal. Yet at the same time Boston have leaked like a sieve. Only Seattle and DC have let in more, and Seattle only one more. Chicago has let in as many as Boston, but scored a lot less.

            As has been mentioned, pride would want Boston to finish ahead of Chicago; tactically in the NWSL finishing as low as possible might be better for next season, seeing that there is no relegation. (In France they relegate the bottom three while most leagues only send down two teams.)

  • Gerry Marrone

    Frankly I am shocked that there has been such little criticism of Cone as a coach this season. With the roster she has handed there is absolutely no excuse for that team not to have been a runaway leader at the top of the table.

    • Steglitz49

      As long as Portland makes it to the play-offs all is cool. In Europe or Japan it would be a different story, but the NWSL is different. Why, one wonders.

    • hercircumstance

      There’s been criticism of her in every Thorns game thread. Perhaps not as strongly in the media, but granted it is hard to work that in while talking about Portland’s atmosphere. Part of Portland being the “face” of the league is to be positive. Maybe if their attendance stank or someone besides a rookie spoke out they might have incentive to change things up earlier. Maybe if she didn’t have such close organizational ties. It’s too late to pull a Boston now.

      Personally I don’t think she’ll be back next season. They have the money to hire someone better and I doubt any of the stars will rally around her. It’s pretty inexcusable that the team seems to only have 70 minutes in them even if their opponents had just played a few days earlier. They seem to never be the team with the energy. That’s not even talking about how they waste their star power.

      This season will play out and with Morgan gone any playoff faceplanting will have a built in excuse. In the meanwhile they can be looking at resumes.

      • Steglitz49

        Boston ought to have sacked their coach at the same time as DC did. Granted, it has not gone much better for DC since, but at least the owners showed some gumption.

        I wonder whether the Chief Ideologist and First Secretary of the NWSL might have been behind the riot act being read in Boston? What is your take?