‘In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.’ That was a powerful statement in the Sports Illustrated letter from LeBron James announcing his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014. That has definitely proven true for Abby Elinsky as she’s worked for everything on her journey from Rocky River, Ohio to Orlando Pride.
Cleveland is the reason
After moving from Philadelphia, Abby became a star in Rocky River, a suburb on the west side of Cleveland. She led Rocky River High School to their first-ever state title and received numerous individual honors like Gatorade Ohio Girls Soccer Player of the Year and NSCAA All-American. Elinsky was also a monster for her club team, Cleveland United SC.
“My club team had girls traveling 1-2 hours to get to each session from around the state. One of my coaches himself who helped me develop played at the highest level himself in Europe while playing positionally against Pele,” Abby told BGN. “He is a futbol genius and the sweetest/goofiest man. We called him Papa Joe (Owner and Director of Player Development Joe Raduka), and as young girls, we were really blessed to have such positive energy around us while developing.”
“We also had the best team chemistry because of this, my teammates and I are still best friends to this day despite going off to play at different colleges. With my club team, we won nationals, and with my high school, we won states. I have great memories playing with both teams I was during my time in Cleveland, and for that, I’m most grateful!”
While Cleveland often ends up as the butt of a joke these days, Abby feels like The Land is definitely underrated. “Summertime is dreamy there. Such perfect weather, water close by as my family’s house has the back yard being Lake Erie,” she explained. “There is the Cleveland yachting club, CYC, in which boats and sailboats are coming to and from- talk about aesthetically pleasing.”
“There’s also a pool and restaurant there which is a fan favorite for the summer days. As for the winter, it’s harsh being waterfront, but I’m a ‘seasons’ type of girl so it also comes to be refreshing as well! My dad grew up in Cleveland so we have close friends “family”, which makes the place even more special.”
Life is a journey, not a destination
She left the Cleveland suburb and started her college career at the University of Illinois before she played all over the pitch as a Tarheel at the University of North Carolina. Abby featured at every level of the formation, outside of goalkeeper. In 2017, she scored twice and added four assists.
“I grew up as a forward, scoring goals and finding myself while doing so, all the way up to college (then had a transition into positional changes based on the coach’s preference),” she said. “Mia Hamm was always my role model growing up (her uncle called her Abby Hamm when she was younger), and then I got to hang out with her and watch a game at a tournament once I began playing for North Carolina.”
“It’s pleasing to see things come full circle, what you want most, and people you cherish for their abilities, then to achieve one of those goals you’ve been striving for in your career and spending time with people you’ve looked up to.”
With the versatility and overall athleticism that she showcased at UNC, Elinsky was selected in the third round of the 2018 NWSL College Draft by the Houston Dash. But, before her rookie season, she was released by the team. Elinsky joined the Pride as a national team replacement player. That season, she would only appear in two matches, playing just over 30 minutes of soccer, and registering zero shots or assists. She returned to Orlando for the 2019 season and featured in 18 matches, including four starts.
While becoming a professional athlete is an accomplishment in itself, Abby’s had to work extra hard to get where she is. Does that journey make her current position that much sweeter? “Of course,” she answered. “A favorite saying of mine is that anything worth having it doesn’t come easy. That’s in its truest form in the things we want most. Since I can remember as a young girl, it’s always been about soccer.”
Her family has played a big part in this journey, instilling the right mindset to keep grinding. “At a young age, I always imagined myself playing for team USA. The confidence I had and continued to have in my craft and what I have to offer (very much so including perseverance and hard work), I contribute to my dad. He wrestled for Team USA and went as an alternate for his weight to the ‘92 Olympics. Growing up with his undivided support and more important than anything else, he was never biased with me.
She added, “We would go over strengths and weaknesses after every training/game. He always phrased critiques towards me, ‘to be the best in the world/to play on the Olympic team’, the way in which he chose to relay information tremendously helped me at a young age visualize my dream. As I got older I realized it’s not a crazy dream as long as you are willing to work to become your best every chance you’ve got, which is still the mindset I choose to have while playing in the pros.”
Her increased workload in 2019 led to a determined offseason of training for Elinsky. “My training focus, currently, is to practice my decision making in front of goal to become clinical on frame. Like clockwork, I often remind myself how much power to approach the ball with given the different circumstances, to calm my mind while transitioning from doing the hard work, then the final piece of finishing and doing so (with) every single chance I am presented with,” she explained. “This sophistication of the fundamentals I am focused on in my practice will translate into games. This is how I plan on contributing in front of goal for my team.”
2019 was definitely a step in the right direction, but with that focused offseason training, 2020 looks set to be Abby’s best year yet as a professional. While she’s been waiting to take the next step in 2020, her go-to quarantine shows have been Entourage, Gossip Girl (again), and Grey’s Anatomy, a self-proclaimed McDreamy fan. Now that the NWSL announced the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup, Abby Elinsky will have the chance to prove that, like her favorite Cleveland rapper Kid Cudi, she has the heart of a lion.