US SoccerUS Soccer

Quote Sheet: New WNT Head Coach Jill Ellis and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati

Ellis, Gulati discuss the hiring of Ellis as the new head coach of the U.S. WNT

Opening remarks and introduction of U.S. WNT head coach Jill Ellis:
Sunil Gulati: “ Jill Ellis will become the eighth coach of our Women’s National Team in our history. We’re very excited that Jill has agreed to take the team through the World Cup and beyond. We had a pretty short and focused process since we made the decision (to change coaches) about a month ago. In that process we interviewed three candidates that were finalists with a search committee that consisted of Dan Flynn, April Heinrichs, and myself, and from that group we decided that Jill was the best candidate. We didn’t consider any current NWSL coaches. The thought of doing double-duty or waiting until they were available didn’t make sense to us. In Jill, we have someone who knows our program, who has been extraordinarily successful, who has coached the team very recently with success, and we are very confident in her abilities to lead the team forward. The marching orders are pretty straightforward from our perspective- and her own view and from the team- and that is success next summer in Canada and in Rio a year later….We should also mention that we have also announced today, along with CONCACAF, that we will host the CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in the United States. That will be in October, so Jill has already brought us good luck in that sense that we will be playing at home.”

Initial thoughts and feelings about being named head coach:
Jill Ellis: “Sunil, thank you so much. I’m truly honored and humbled by this opportunity. I want to thank Sunil and Dan Flynn for their investment in me and this tremendous opportunity. I’m really excited to get going. I actually love the fact that qualifiers are right around the corner and the World Cup is next year because it does bring laser focus. I feel like I have a very good handle on the current core of players. I’m excited to bring them in and start to gel and get ready for qualifiers. To echo Sunil, I’m delighted that we will be playing on home turf for those qualifiers.”

On why she withdrew from consideration during the last head coach search:
JE : “I think it was a personal and a timing issue for me. I had been involved with Pia Sundhage’s staff in 2008 and I have worked for U.S. Soccer since then, and obviously I was still at UCLA. Having done double-duty in two roles for a long time and then really focusing on my youth role, I really didn’t think that the timing was right for me. Since then, I have moved and my personal life is a little bit different but I just recognize that this is a unique opportunity. It felt right. My energy is there and the excitement of moving forward with this group is a huge honor.”

On why Ellis was hired and what characteristics she possesses:
SG: “We think Jill’s got all the right credentials in terms of experience and 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 team and previously with our youth teams. She gets top marks in all the work she’s been doing on the technical side with all of our programs over the last several years. 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.”

On why the CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament for the 2015 Women’s World Cup was moved to the U.S:
SG : “In terms of the CONCACAF tournament, the original plan was to host the tournament in Mexico. They had some issues with the venues that they had been planning to use. We talked with Mexico and with CONCACAF and we were happy to step up, and CONCACAF was pleased with that possibility. It was a relatively straightforward move.”

On the time until the World Cup:
SG: “I don’t quite view it with the same urgency that some people have said. It’s not as if the team has been idle for a long period of time. They’ve been playing regular games with mixed results. The players, unlike a situation when we didn’t have a league, are playing week in and week out and there are 13 months until the Women’s World Cup with a Qualifying Tournament between now and then. The urgency in terms of success in the tournament has little to do with the fact that it’s in Canada. This team wants to succeed every time we step into a World Championship or Olympics, or frankly any time they are on the field. That’s the goal. There’s plenty of time for Jill to get the team playing the way she’d like it to, playing the way we’re capable of and being on the winner’s stand next summer.”

On her knowledge of the players and goals for the team as the head coach:
JE: “My familiarity with the players is a huge plus for me because I’ve worked with these players in the youth program and I have seen the younger players who have come in and integrated with the veterans. I have a really good feel for the players, and they are in a good environment right now. The focus for me will be about bringing in players, and the initial piece will be about trying to establish a starting core and start to build relationships to get ready for qualifiers. As always, after qualifying, it’s then about looking and reassessing again. That’s a normal process that you go through once you get through qualifiers. Often those rosters aren’t the same from qualifiers to World Cup. Not beating around the bush, I know the expectation, I embrace the expectation. I know that we want to win and I think that this group is capable of winning. That’s what we want. It is always the expectation, and people have asked me if that’s something that’s intimidating, and I say ‘no’ because when you work for U.S. Soccer, it is about winning gold medals and being on the first place podium. It’s just a tremendous opportunity. I relish it.”

On when venues will be announced for the CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament:
SG : “I’m not sure exactly when that will happen. It will be in conjunction with CONCACAF. I would guess in June, but they may choose to have us announce that a little bit later given that the men’s tournament is going on. Certainly during the next month or month-and-a-hal,f I would think is when we would announce the venues. We have a lead on it already.”

On feelings about her history and knowledge of current players:
JE: “The only two players I haven’t directly coached as a head coach have been Abby [Wambach] and Christie [Rampone]. All of the other players, I was with the U-21s and the U-20s. How does that help me? I could very readily say to the players that these are the areas we need to continue to refine and get better to help us be successful. Knowing their strengths and the mentality is going to be important as well. Being connected to the youth, I’ve seen the U-20s from the last group. Julie Johnston and Morgan Brian; I have seen them competing. I think it gives me a really good handle of not just what’s in front of me but what’s also potentially coming down the line. With this group, the core has been established and what I love about them is they do embrace the new players. This group is locked on, they want to win. For the veteran players, bringing younger players in that can help the core, they are open and welcome to that. Abby is a tremendous role model. I think she will continue to have a major role with this team. On and off the field, she brings so much to this group. Alex Morgan hasn’t been in for quite a while. She’s been hurt. I know she’s now returning to some modified training but she will obviously be very welcome back. In her absence, Sydney Leroux has stepped up and established herself. We have a really good blend of younger players and experienced players. The common denominator is that they’re just very, very hungry to win this World Cup.”

On seeing current players in the youth programs and existing relationships:
JE: “The first time I saw Sydney, she had black and white hair and she was 14 years old and scored one of the best youth goals I have ever seen. I’ve known Sydney for a long, long time and coached her in college. I remember seeing Carli [Lloyd] with the U-21s and I went over to her and I said ‘I’ve not seen a female strike a ball as well as you do.’ Heather O’Reilly’s mentality, Megan Rapinoe’s creativity, and all of those things I saw when they were young players. It’s been awesome to see them progress and now be big personalities for our senior team. Lauren Holiday and Rapinoe were I think 18-years-old and I was over in Europe with them. Just to see where they are now, it’s a credit to them and it’s a credit to our process and what U.S. Soccer is layered in.”

On filling the vacancy of Women’s Youth Development Director left by the hiring of Ellis as head coach:
SG: “The process has started about how we would fill the role and the vacancy. Since April was part of the search committee we talked about that some. I don’t think we will bring on an individual in the immediate future in the next few weeks. But, we are talking about how we might shift some responsibilities of some people that are involved in the program already and down the road, that could be this year, have someone else on a full-time basis. Jill will obviously be completely focused on the Women’s National Team but has lots of experience there so she can certainly step in when needed in terms of overall guidance with some of our youth teams.”

On the hiring process now in comparison to the last search for a head coach:
SG: “The process wasn’t that much different. We had a lot of candidates the last time, it’s how many we chose to interview. We had a lot of interest this time but chose to interview three people. In the last go-round, we had chosen to interview six. It certainly would have been seven had Jill not withdrawn from the process. That part of the process isn’t dissimilar. The timing is different because it’s 13 months until the World Cup. Therefore the focus has to be much more on the short term preparation of the National Team. On the other hand, Jill has a much greater knowledge of our programs and our youth programs and the technical side of our programs than virtually any candidate that we talked to last time. She could still do some of that, I won’t say with her eyes closed but with her eyes wide open, when there’s time to do that. The focus is very much on the job description which is to win next summer.”

On players' positive comments about her as a coach:
JE: “In the interim everyone loves you (laughter). But connecting with players is a part of who I am as a coach. Building relationships so there is a trust there so you can have challenging conversations. While it is obviously very nice and appreciated, what it said to me is that who I am and what I am about as far as relating to players is important, even to the senior players. It was great to get their vote of confidence, and now it’s creating an environment where they’re continuing to be bought in to the process and the whole team environment.”

On how she sees herself fitting into the evolution of the U.S. WNT’s style of play:
JE: “I think, first of all, I have an appreciation for the game and I love to see the game played in an aesthetic way. I was actually at the game in 2011 when Japan beat Germany in Germany and I think it was a little bit of a tipping point for the women’s game because, suddenly, having the ball was the priority. For me, personally, being able to keep possession, create more chances, build from back to front through the midfield, is very, very important. But I also recognize that we do have unique qualities. We have technical players and we have technical athletes, as well. Much like the modern game, the counter is going to be a part of our weaponry just because of the pace and the precision that we have to make that pass. But also, you must be able to control the tempo of the game. I think that’s the style that I’ve always believed in. I think the players I tried to recruit at UCLA were players that could definitely, in the midfield area, keep possession of the ball. So, for me, the game has to meet the challenges and the opponents will sometimes sit in on us and we have to be thoughtful with movement and tempo, and there will be teams that will press us and we have to be able to punish teams with a counter. I certainly think that aesthetics and efficiency will be key for me.”

On whether or not any qualifying matches for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in the U.S. will be played on turf:
SG: “We haven’t decided on the venues so I can’t comment on that. When we do, is it possible that some of matches will be played on artificial surface? Yes, it’s possible, but since we haven’t selected any venues yet, I can’t say for sure.”

On how much the two matches Ellis coached as an interim head coach affected the decision to hire her:
SG: “None of the these things come down to one specific game, and certainly not friendly games when Jill had the team for a few weeks. Obviously we were able to observe her interaction with the players and so on, but they weren’t directly impactful.”