Despite walking into a new role, there are few unknowns for Jill Ellis.
On Friday she was named full-time coach of the United States women’s national team. Her task, as evidenced by the betting odds on Betfair, is both simple and extraordinary: win the 2015 World Cup. The pressure is obvious, but Ellis is taking everything in stride.
“I do truly know the expectation is to bring home a World Cup,” she told The Equalizer on Friday in a phone interview. “That’s the focus. I don’t see it as – and this is kind of how I’m wired, I guess – but I don’t see it as pressure, because I see it as an unbelievable opportunity to be able to do this.”
Ellis compiled a 6-0-3 record in two stints as interim coach. She has been the development director for the U.S. women’s national teams for three years, and she’s been in charge of several of the U-20 and U-21 national teams in addition to serving as an assistant coach under Pia Sundhage.
Those experiences are what got Ellis hired — and why she feels she is best-suited for the job.
“There isn’t an unknown for me here,” she said. “If I was coming from outside, than I would feel that, yea, this is a pretty quick turnaround for qualifiers. But I feel that I have a good understanding of the players and where they are at. I feel confident in what we are going to move forward with.”
Several players have said since Tom Sermanni’s firing on April 6 that what they need is a coach to guide them and to steer the ship. The pieces are already in place, is the thinking. Now it’s Ellis’ time – full-time, that is – to guide what she calls a “thoroughbred” of a team.
“This is a very successful team, so part of it is giving them the freedom and the flexibility, but also establishing some parameters in how we want to play,” Ellis said. “I think it’s about providing feedback, providing environments in training where they are going to grow, and learn, evolve, and understand what we are looking for in the big picture.”
The 47-year-old Portsmouth, England, native says she’s been “very active” in watching National Women’s Soccer League games this season to evaluate both current mainstays and potential new players. She sees the NWSL as a platform for players — like midfielder Allie Long, who earned her first cap against Canada on May 8 — to get opportunities in U.S. camp, where they will be further evaluated.
Ellis will continue to test out the 4-3-3 formation implemented against Canada in order to get the most out of a talented attacking core. But she says she isn’t married to a system; her goal is to have flexibility within the team’s shape.
“It’s going to be about building relationships on the field, positionally,” she said.
Ellis was in the stands for the shocking 2011 World Cup quarterfinal that say Japan defeat hosts Germany, and she sees that as watershed moment for women’s soccer – when technical ability truly shined over athleticism.
Still, the U.S. must play to its strengths, and those include a mix of possession and athletic, at times direct play. Ellis also acknowledges the counterattack will play its role in the United States’ system when needed, and she sees a balance of “aesthetics and efficiency” as the basics of the team’s style. And her style is one that has been shaped by her father, John, who was an assistant coach for the U.S. women in 2000.
Now, the keys are fully in Ellis’ hands, and U.S. Soccer’s faith is in her.
“We think Jill has all of the right credentials, in terms of experience, how she relates to the players – we’ve been able to see that first-hand in the two times she’s been with the senior teams and with our youth teams,” USSF president Sunil Gulati said. “She gets top marks with all the work she’s been doing on the technical side with all of our programs over the last several years, so it’s all of those things. It’s ability, it’s leadership, it’s experience, it’s success, and more recently working with the senior team.”
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