The 2014 season has been an interesting one for the Houston Dash. It's been the team's first in the NWSL and while Houston is technically an expansion team, the players certainly haven't played that way. The young Dash team has had many stand out players, including forward Ella Masar.
Masar was acquired from the Chicago Red Stars during the expansion draft and has more than proved that she is not only a force up front for the Dash, but she's a leader for the team as well. Last week, Dynamo Theory had an opportunity to talk with Masar - who was back with the team after recovering from a concussion - and discussed the team, the league and reveals who rocks out the locker room before a match.
DT: First off, how are you feeling after your injury?
EM: I'm good. I got cleared to play (this week). It's always hard when you get hit for the second time (in the head). I don't remember hitting the ground, so I think that was their worry. But I've been telling people it's like when you break your ankle compared to when you sprain it. If you break your ankle, you know it's broken and you know you'll be out 6 weeks. When you sprain your ankle and it's a bad sprang you could be out 3 or 4 months. I think it was just my head reacting because I was hit in the soft part at the back of the head. Talking to the doctors (after this hit) it was actually better than the first time. So I took a week off (because) going home to Chicago Saturday was a big deal for me.
DT: Since this is Houston Dash's first season in the NWSL, what impression would you say you and the Dash have made on the league so far?
EM: You know, I think that if anything we've been proving that we're not an expansion team. Yes, we're still fighting to make playoffs, but I think no matter if we make it or not, our type of play is going to continue. We're a young team. The difference (for me) from last year in Chicago is that I was the oldest on the youngest team last year, this year in Houston, there are 23 year olds on our oldest team. It just proves to show how young we actually are, and it's a lot different. You go from a college season, from really playing 12 weeks and now you're playing 6 months. Essentially we're playing five games in 14 days. I mean I think there's a lot of factors, but I think we're proving this is a building year and next year we'll really go for it.
DT: What has been your favorite moment of the season so far?
EM: That's a hard one to look at. For me, I think, I'm one of the older ones on the team and I've kind of had some injuries and I've missed some action. The good news is I'm finally finding answers of why everything is coming together. There was a big foundation problem that we missed that's come to light which is good for me, tells me I'm not just old. The point of that is I don't take anything for granted. When you're showing up for two months and it's 95 degrees at 8 a.m. in the morning and people are dragging it's just so hot ... I enjoy it. It's important to bring a smile. These girls are just an incredible group of girls ... I really respect and appreciate the younger kids and I think they respect the veteran players. It feels like a team, it feels like a family. It doesn't feel like a bunch of individuals, which happens in the pro life when the thing that you love turns into a paycheck.
DT: How big of a change has it been for you coming from Chicago and moving into Houston?
EM: The biggest thing is that we're so lucky down here to be equated with the Dynamo. We get to play at BBVA Compass Stadium, we're using the same training facilities as the Dynamo, same weight room. I just left BBVA and ran into Tally Hall and Brad Davis. That didn't happen in Chicago because (the men's and women's teams) were separate. That's the biggest thing, the professionalism. That's something Portland (and others) are replicating. You see it in the attendance as well. When you play teams where the games are nearly sold out, people ask if that makes me nervous. It doesn't; that's what we live for. Playing in front of a packed stadium ... It's an incredible feeling.
DT: Did it help you during your move knowing that Erin McLeod, a fellow Red Stars teammate, would move with you to Houston?
EM: Yeah, it did. I think that she knows me. Houston is a far place from my home and it's far from her home too. We've gone through the ups and downs and emotional battles as teammates, which is a lot, especially when you're around 24 women. It's hard, you can ask any man or any women. She's my roommate here and I'm keeping up with her, how she conducts herself as a professional too.
DT: So, not to put you in a corner, but how different are the fan bases in Houston from Chicago?
EM: I think they're pretty similar. I think it's obvious we (Houston) have more fans to pack the stadium because we're downtown. In Chicago, the biggest issue is you'd have to drive an hour out of the city to get to the stadium. Here, it might not be accessible by public transportation, but it's still in the heart of Houston. You can do different things and that helps us. And again, we have the Dynamo, so we have those fans coming to our games too. You need that support.
DT: You've been a stand out for the Dash this season. What is your biggest goal right now as the league gets closer to the playoffs?
EM: I just want to prove to everyone that we can play and that we are there and that it's going to come down to the last game of the season. I want that to come out, all the hard work that we put in here. I think we've been getting better with each game and we've had a bunch of different line ups so I think that speaks to who we are. And I hope people can take that and get excited for next year.
DT: The NWSL is still a young league, but it's going fairly strong. At home and away games, do you feel like soccer, especially the women's league, is gaining popularity in the States?
EM: Yes, absolutely. I saw there was something published about that ESPN game with nine goals, there was 107,000 viewers, which was a 300% jump from last year's Fox Soccer ratings. That is proving something. U.S. Soccer founded our league and took a risk for us, so if that doesn't prove to them it's getting better, then you're not sure what else. I think it's huge that ESPN is pushing that because without that support and the sponsorships, it doesn't happen. So I think we're doing it right. We'd like to see the pay grade for the people around our league to (go up from) the minimum of $10,000 for six months. (Up) is eventually where we want to go and I know we can't get there right now. But people don't understand that. I can say this because I'm 28 years old - as you get older, your priorities change. I want to put money down for a house, I want to put money away hopefully for a family. As much as you love the game and you want to play it, you can't do that making only $18,000 to $20,000 for just six months and living out of suitcases. It's just little (sacrifices) that we know we're doing because we want our kids to play. I don't care if you love soccer or you don't, or if you're a man or a woman, if you don't respect (what we're doing) then I'm not sure we'd get along. You do the thing you love and you sacrifice everything you can for it. And I don't think people understand the sacrifices we make to do what we love. The 9 to 5 is such a grind, but what we do is a grind as well.
DT: Compared to how the WPS league was set up, do you think the NWSL has a better set up for success?
EM: I think financially, absolutely. In the WPS, the average salary was $25,000 to $30,000, which is a lot more feasible for 6 months of living and then be able to coach and do side jobs for the other six months. Now, (in the NWSL) we're looking at $200,000 for a roster of 20 girls, and some are allocated. I mean, as hard as that is, it's a sacrifice. I think Portland was the only team that made money last year. But this is the way I think it has to be done. You come to the games, you're going to see a lot of athletes, you're going to see a lot of women who can do it athetically as good as anyone. The soccer is starting to take off, so there is going to be a longevity. But it's also going to take keeping the older players around to teach the younger girls and have them come up through the ranks.
DT: Is there any fun or silly traditions that you've developed yet as a team? Anything you feel has helped you grow together as a team?
EM: I don't know, I think we've had some pretty interesting travel experiences. Like one time we were literally delayed in a room for seven hours. We've been stuck for 6 hours on a plane on the runway. I think we've had some bonding moments for sure. Honestly, as crazy as it sounds, practicing in the heat every day and showing up every day (has bonded us). I give (Head Coach) Randy credit for bringing in a group of girls that fights for the same thing. This is the first time in my career that player 1 to 24 has fought for the same thing.
DT: Do you guys have a locker room DJ to get you guys pumped up for a game?
EM: We do, Ari Romero, the rookie out of Nebraska, has been designated DJ. I just figured out what "The Walk" was. I don't know where I was when that happen. I didn't think I was that old, but I think I missed some things. She does a great job for that. Kaylyn Kyle tries to come in and put music on, but we usually stop that pretty quick. But dancing and putting music on before the game is a definite must for us.
DT: So do you yourself have anything to get yourself ready for a match?
EM: You know, the girls make fun of me for this, but I'm sure a lot of people are familiar with the "Transformers" movie. There is a song from that called "Prime." It's about a 2 to 3 minute song and I listen to that song before I go out every time. And there's no words, it just gets you going. I always say that's my song for going out. People say like I'm going for war, but it works for me.
Masar and the Houston Dash will take on Seattle Reign FC Wednesday, July 30 at 8 p.m. CT