By the conclusion of last season, Illinois native Ella Masar knew she wouldn’t be returning to the Chicago Red Stars. While playing at home is a dream for many pro players, Masar sought an opportunity to do something that was unattainable in Chicago.
“The Red Stars were really good to me in the four years I was there and their owner backed me since day one,” Masar said. “But I wasn’t ready to come off the bench and that was going to be my role there.”
“I’m excited to be here and not living out of a suitcase for the next six months and this city can be my home,” Masar said. “I was in Denver for the off-season and that was good for a couple of months but I’m excited to make roots here. Houston is a big city so it looks like it’ll be a good time.”
The move brought her to an organization where she believes in what the team is fighting for, something she values heavily. But with Houston being the NWSL’s unknown variable, the team lacks chemistry and has a lot of fresh faces which can be viewed as disadvantage.
“I think we’re lucky, people can kind of look at it as a hindrance but we’re carrying nothing from last year where as a lot of different teams have changed,” Masar said. “We didn’t get the national team players that some of the other teams have because we were late in the process but we know it’s not only about this year but growing this franchise into something special.”
Masar already has a relationship with Dash head coach Randy Waldrum from her collegiate career at Illinois, where he served as head coach for rival Notre Dame. Waldrum has been instrumental every step of the way for the Dash.
“From day one he’s preached to us about character and hard work,” Masar said. “He wants us here and he’s hand picked everyone to be here. That’s been huge to help us all to be knowing that were wanted and he has confidence in us.”
While training camp is only in its first week and roles haven’t been decided yet, Masar is sure of one position she wouldn’t like to be in – outside midfield. In Chicago, Masar was often utilized there and she gives credit to it for allowing her a different view on the game and increased her fitness level.
“I don’t think I’d ever want to play outside mid again just because the amount of running you have to do but in whatever formation you just have to do your job,” Masar said.
Her natural position at forward is a role she would be better suited in. Being on a young team and surrounded by a few talented forwards in Stephanie Ochs, Tiffany McCarty and rookie Kealia Ohai, Masar knows wherever Waldrum needs her to play and can help out the team is what she’s interested in.
“As a forward you want to lead the league in goal scoring and you want to be seen as a constant threat,” Masar said. “If my role is somewhere in the midfield then I want to be a presence and a force. I want to have opposing players know they have to look over their shoulder because Ella’s coming.”
The loss of Canadian national team defender Lauren Sesselmann is something that is being felt around the team. Sesselmann’s torn ACL will keep her out for the entire NWSL season and her experience and talent is a huge absence for the team.
“I’ve known Sesselmann for the last five to six years [and] I’ve gotten to see her quite a bit in the offseason,” Masar said. “She’s someone who’s really impressed me from her time at Purdue till now. She’s hit her potential and was going to be a senior leader on this team so losing that in a center back hurts but we want her to come down here and get healthy. The Canadian national team hosts the World Cup in a year and a half so if we can help her get healthy for that then that’s what we’re going to do.”
The first game of the season is a date every Dash player is avidly anticipating. The first game in the franchise’s history comes at home and against reigning champions Portland Thorns FC.
“We’re playing Portland so we’re up against last year’s champs, we have three girls that played there last season and want to show them what their missing,” Masar said. “We’re going to be playing in front of a home crowd so I think it’s important we get a win.”
Portland keeper Nadine Angerer is someone Masar has played against before, during Champions League play when Masar spent time with PSG and Angerer for Frankfurt. She’s now looking to best the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year in the home opener.
“I hit one off the bar against her so hopeful this time around I can get one in the goal that’s my only focus,” Masar said. “When your playing any team in this league you’re arguably playing the best five to eight goalkeepers in the world.”
Despite having a vocal presence and displaying a lot of heart and toughness, Masar believes the role of Dash team captain will go to one of her senior contemporaries.
“I’d say not being one of the oldest players here and being in a league I think that obviously you have to where you kind of have to step up and except it,” Masar said. “The more experience you have I think it helps everyone and the differences experiences I’ve been in I think have helped so far but I’m still trying to figure out Randy and the other girls are trying to do the same.”
As the days tick down till the season opener, Masar knows she’s ready to leave it all out on the field for her new club.
“For me it’s going to be a huge year and I’m excited to go in and prove it, the chip’s always on my shoulder and it’s just about going in and being ready to show up,” Masar said.