U.S. Soccer

Ellis Takes the Reins

New U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Jill Ellis comes into the job with a passion and pride born of many years of playing and coaching in the American women’s soccer system.


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They say timing is everything, but perhaps putting in the time is everything.

In the case of new U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Jill Ellis, that time began as a 15-year-old coming to America from Portsmouth, England, with a passion for soccer shared by few women in 1981, or at least millions less than in 2014.

The daughter of a soccer coach, Ellis grew up in the American soccer system. She won a national club title at the under-19 level, had a stellar playing career at the College of William and Mary and went on to coach more than 300 NCAA Division I matches.  Along the way, she coached at virtually every level of the U.S. Women’s National Team programs, watching several generations of female players grow from teenagers into seasoned and highly successful professionals with the U.S. Women’s National Team, which became the most successful women’s soccer team in the world.


Now, she is charged with continuing that legacy, and she couldn’t be more excited and ready for the challenge.  And oh, it will be a challenge.

Although the American team has enviable depth all over the field, the improvement of the women’s international game over the last 10 years has been tremendous. The competition Ellis must navigate therefore comes not only from the outside but also from within.

She will be the one deciding who makes rosters and who earns coveted spots in the starting 11.

“Part of my core make-up is always to be honest,” said Ellis. “Whatever team I’ve coached, I’ve always said that decisions will be made that are best for the team and you’ll always get it served up straight because I think players appreciate that. If the players buy into the team and the team-first mentality, they’ll understand it. They appreciate honesty.”

Ellis is stepping back from her position as U.S. Soccer’s Youth Development Director, a position she has held since the start of 2011 that tasked her with liaising with the youth soccer community throughout the country while overseeing the youngest age groups at the U-14, U-15 and U-17 levels. That being the case, she’ll never lose sight of the overall picture.

“I feel like I have a really good insight into the challenges at each level of soccer, and I know the effort that all those coaches put in,” said Ellis. “They really work hard and care about the game. I’ve worked at the club level and obviously I coached at the university level and with the Youth and senior National Teams, so for me it’s been a phenomenal journey. I left college because ultimately this environment, the National Team, international soccer, is what I love. It’s intoxicating. But, I’ll never lose sight of where the work really starts – with our youth.”

As the head coach of the U-21s and U-20s, Ellis has coached almost every player in the current senior player pool. As an assistant coach for the full National Team under Pia Sundhage, she’s seen firsthand the best teams and the best players in the most intense environments the world has to offer. She knows the players and their vast array of talents and personalities.

“Certainly, almost this entire pool of players I’ve worked with in the youth levels, with the U-21s or the U-20s,” said Ellis. “That’s great because I really feel like I have a connection to those players. Some of those players I’ve even cut off rosters, but I know them, I know their abilities, and I also recognize how they’ve grown and really started to come into their own. It definitely gives me an advantage, an insight into their personalities and their work ethic.”

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Ellis’ first challenge as the official head coach will come against France in two June friendlies. She’s happy to get the chance for the players to test themselves against one of the best teams in the world.

“The first task at hand is to determine the roster for the France games,” said Ellis. “Those are two unbelievable opportunities against a world-class opponent. These are games to build on the relationships between the current players and also to perhaps give some newer players a look. You’re always going to evaluate and you’re always going to be looking for players you think can help you.”

To that end, Ellis will be consuming vast amounts of NWSL action this summer. To conduct this interview, she had to pull herself away briefly from watching the web stream of the Boston Breakers hosting the Chicago Red Stars.

“The NWSL has been great. I’ve been able to go out and watch games, and the teams are really trying to play,” said Ellis. “We’re getting more and more technical as a country. I’ve seen it in the youth teams, and we want to play a style where we keep the ball, which you need to do in order to win at the highest level. The NWSL is doing exactly what it needs to do – provide an environment for younger players to improve and prove themselves. It’s a place where players who have been off the radar can get an opportunity to shine.”

For all national team coaches, the integration of young players is vital. That process has certainly already started in this cycle and Ellis will continue along that path with, she says, the help of the players who have already piled up a vast amount of caps. 

“For the younger players you have to encourage them when they come into our environment,” said Ellis. “For the veteran players you have to let them know that this is part of the process and they need to welcome these players, and I think they’ve done a great job of that. They’ve really embraced the young players because at the end of the day, these players want to win. They need the person across from them and next to them to really be on the same page. You only do that by establishing that team chemistry, and our team knows that.”

Ellis will be a tough coach. She will be demanding. She will hold the players to their own high standards and those of the program and its legacy. But she will also be understanding and appreciative of the work her players and staff do to make the team go. She is quick to speak of her admiration for all the WNT players and coaches that came before this moment and of the work they did to get the U.S. team to where it is today. She will honor that legacy with a dedication to positivity and instilling confidence.

“I’ve seen this team thrive in a positive environment, whether they’re world champions or they’re youth players,” said Ellis. “They want to have confidence. Part of a coach’s job is to help foster that confidence. There are going to be tough times, both on and off the field, but a coach’s job is to prepare them to succeed, to let them know that no matter what the score or the environment they find themselves in, they can be successful.”

And so the Ellis Era begins.


Player Quotes: 2016 U.S. Women's Olympic Soccer Team

Midfielder and co-captain Carli Lloyd

On making the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team:
Even though this is my third Olympics, each and every time it’s very special and humbling to be part of an Olympic Team. It’s special to represent U.S. Soccer, our country and Team USA, and it’s always a dream come true. This is another challenge that awaits us. No team has won a World Cup and then won an Olympics. We want to come home with a gold medal, so being able to thrive under the challenge is great. It won’t be easy and we’re going to have to be ready for it.” 

On the mix of veterans and less experienced players:
“Every tournament that I’ve been a part of has been different. We were there without Abby in 2008; in 2012 we were coming off the 2011 World Cup which we did not win, and now we are here in 2016 and we have a lot of young players. They have sparked the energy and have brought talent, but this is also mixed with us veteran players. We know what to expect and what is needed to win the gold medal. We know it’s different. We can help the younger players deal with that. We may also come out and lose our first game, and we have to realize that it is okay and we can keep moving forward and still win. Nothing worthwhile in life is gone through without challenges. This team will be able to handle it and lean on each other.” 

Defender and co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn

On making the U.S. Olympic Team:
“Any time you get to represent the United States is a tremendous honor. I'm thrilled to be going to my second Olympic Games. It is a truly unique experience being a part of Team USA with all these athletes competing in all these different disciplines. There's a real sense of camaraderie and being a part of something bigger than just your team. In that sense it's quite different from the World Cup where the spotlight and pressure rest solely on our team.”

On the mix of veterans and less experienced players:
“We have a lot of new faces on the roster compared to just a year ago. It's been a quick turnaround, but the young players have done such an amazing and professional job working in to our system while adding their own flair to our team DNA. We're attempting to evolve our style of play, and the new players have been instrumental in helping us get to a new level. It's a wonderful mix of experience and youth, and the team has a great energy at camps.”

Goalkeeper Hope Solo

On making the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team:
“Jill called and told me that I made the team and said ‘I know this is a formality,’ but every official Olympic roster means a great deal to me. It’s a hard roster to make, with less players, and it's a tough tournament, a lot of games in a short amount of time. You never know if you are going to be able to stay healthy all the way leading into when the roster is named. There are a lot factors that go into making it, and it means a great deal for every player. I’m excited to navigate our way through and see all that Brazil has to offer."

On how this is different from last year and the Women’s World Cup:
“It's a smaller roster than last year’s World Cup team and it's a much different mix of players. The task ahead of us is going to be challenging. By no means is this tournament going to be easy, not with all of the challenges we will face from our great opponents and also from the country itself. I believe in our young players’ skill. We all believe in their ability, but the fun part for me is that they will also have the opportunity to show the world more than skill alone. They will have to show the mental strength that it takes to rise to the occasion of an Olympic tournament."

Forward Mallory Pugh

On making her first Olympic Team:
“I’m super excited and nervous at the same time. When [Jill Ellis] called, a bunch of emotions were going through my mind. I was a bit in shock because I know I’ve worked hard and it’s because of my teammates on the National Team, on the U-20s and back at home that have pushed me. I appreciate that from them. I wouldn’t be in the position I am in today without them. I thought, ‘did that really just happen? Am I going to go to the Olympics?’ I will not only be with amazing athletes on my team, but also on Team USA. It will be so cool to see so many different athletes, find out their journeys and be inspired by them.”

Midfielder Allie Long

On making her first U.S. Olympic Team:
“As soon as Jill said congrats, I was so grateful and thankful. I tried not to cry, but when we hung up the phone I did; only happy tears. It was such a cool moment. People had told me this was impossible. The team had just won the World Cup, it was hard that they would change the team and I came in so late, but it happened. I think it’s one of the most humbling and special experiences. This is my first big tournament, but I know what it means to represent your country. I watched the last Olympic Games and I know how cool it is and what it takes to win. You represent everyone in the U.S. and everyone is watching. It’s so special. I’m focusing on being my best, both physically and mentally. I think when I’m there it will hit me, but this is unbelievable and I’m so happy.”

Midfielder Megan Rapinoe

On coming back from ACL surgery last December and making the Olympic roster:
“This is really special to me. There was a big part of me that didn’t know if this was possible, so that was a very realistic outcome to this. It’s very surreal, mostly because I have a lot of work to do now, and where I am at now is not where I am going to be in a few weeks. Going to the Olympics and representing your country is incredible, but this one is that much better. After everything I went through and the uncertainty, this one is very special.”

Defender Whitney Engen

On making her first U.S. Olympic team:
“It has been kind of a crazy year for me, so to have been picked is a huge honor. Winning the World Cup last year was amazing, but then the process started again and I’m happy that the hard work has paid off.”

On the mix of veterans and less experienced players:
“There is a good mix of youth and older players, but every person has been in a big stage in the same capacity. It’s not the same level as a World Cup or the Olympics, but every person knows how to win and likes to win. We have a lot of first-timers, but we’ve all won before. That gives us the confidence going into Brazil.”

Midfielder Lindsey Horan

On making her first U.S. Olympic Team:
“It’s such an unreal feeling. It hasn’t settled in. I’m grateful and thankful to get this opportunity to represent my country at the Olympics. It’s a special feeling knowing you represent your country and have all of these amazing athletes around you, and we are all at the end of the day in one big team.”

Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher

On making her first Olympic Team:
“It’s very exciting. I was sitting in my apartment ready to go explore Chicago with my parents, so receiving that phone call from Jill sure made the day a bit better. This is a huge honor. You dream of going to the Olympics and competing there. The Women’s World Cup is the biggest stage for soccer, but the Olympics there is just something special about joining Team USA and the history behind the Olympic Games. It’s incredible, and being part of it is very special.” 

Midfielder Morgan Brian

On making her first Olympic Team:
“Making the Olympic team is a life-long dream. It's always an amazing feeling fulfilling a dream and one we have all worked incredibly hard for. We want to bring back the gold medal and do something no other team has done before, all while representing the Red, White and Blue.”

Defender Kelley O’Hara

On making the U.S. Olympic Team:
I don’t think it will ever get old or less stressful when it comes to making a roster because this team is so deep and so many people can make it. Can it be a dream come true if it’s your second Olympics? I say yes because it’s special to go to another one. Not a lot of people are two-time Olympians. I’m honored to be on this team and represent the USA.”

On how the Olympics differs from a World Cup:
“The World Cup is solely football, but at the Olympics you are part of Team USA, this bigger picture and these amazing athletes that are coming together and pulling for each other. You’re not only part of just U.S. Soccer, but also of Team USA and that’s very cool.”

Defender Julie Johnston:

On Making the U.S. Olympic Team:
“I feel anytime you can represent the country it’s an amazing honor. Coming off the World Cup win, it was such a great journey. Right after that win I just wanted more, and to have another opportunity to play with this team in a big tournament. Rio was the next stop and this whole process always makes me fall in love with the sport over and over again.”

Defender Meghan Klingenberg:

On making the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team after being an alternate in 2012:
“When Jill called me that’s what she said, ‘this call is a bit different than 4 years ago,’ and it was one of the best things. I was happy and proud in 2012 as alternate but I wanted to be on the team and win a medal with my teammates and win a medal for the USA. So to be able to go to Brazil is special and now that I’m going I’m humbled and honored to represent it with this group of people. We have a great team with incredible people.”

Defender Ali Krieger:

On making the U.S. Olympic Team after having an ACL injury keep her out four years ago:
“I’m so excited to make the team. After three tries, it’s finally happened. I was an alternate in 2008, and then not being able to go in 2012, but now it’s my first time going to the Olympics so I’ve waited for this my entire life and I’ve trained for it my entire life. We are playing for a bigger Team USA. It’s inspiring to see so many athletes be a part of this. There’s extra motivation and extra support. It’s bigger than just ourselves. This focuses on everything. It’s so cool. Not many people get to go to the Olympics and being part of this group that does go is unbelievable. I’m so happy and excited. You play to be able to compete at the highest level and you dream of this when you’re young. Making it a reality is amazing”

Forward Alex Morgan:

On Making the U.S. Olympic Team:
“Just to be able to continue on this journey with this team is incredible. Even though the players have changed over the last year especially, the heart of this team always stays the same. For big tournaments this team always performs well and shows up for big moments so I’m excited to continue this and help the younger players as we move close to Rio.”
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WNT Jul 12, 2016
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