After naming her 29-player roster for the U.S. Women's National Team first camp of 2017, head coach Jill Ellis sat down with ussoccer.com to discuss what she's looking for in January and what the main goals are moving forward.
ussoccer.com: As the USA begins 2017 with a January training camp, the goals of growth and player evaluation also continue. Are there specific aspects of those themes that you are looking for?
Jill Ellis: Continuing to challenge the players and raise expectations keeps us moving forward. At the end of last year, we looked at some different formations and partnerships. Part of that is provoked by the selection of player personnel, and part of it is to stretch ourselves during this period of the cycle. We made strides in regards to our defensive pressure and attacking penetration, but we have to raise our level in every phase of our game. We want to be a complete team and make it incredibly hard for an opponent to zero in on one component of our play. Along the way, we can’t lose sight of the fact that we’re always looking for players. We can now give ourselves a longer period to see players and see them play against quality teams. In 2017, the focus is not just to get results, but to see how players perform in difficult environments. Our team development is our No. 1 priority this year. Getting better is crucial to build a foundation for 2019.
ussoccer.com: What have you seen from the group of newer players that came in last year and are in January Camp this year?
JE: For the ones who have performed well, we will continue to see them. It’s a tough environment to come into and to stay in. It’s still early, but at this point they’ve earned further investment. They all bring hard work and good attitudes and that helps our environment. We will continue to give deserving players opportunities, and consistent performances both in our environment and with their clubs are key.
ussoccer.com: What are your thoughts on Alex Morgan making the move to play at Olympique Lyonnais in France and Crystal Dunn going to play for Chelsea Ladies in England?
JE: I am confident Alex and Crystal will do very well in their respective situations. With (WNT assistant coach) Tony (Gustavsson) in Europe, and live streaming of club games, we will be able to continue to monitor them in match play. Two of the most important components for all our players in the WNT pool is that they are playing consistent 90 minute games, and that they are training in a competitive environment. Chelsea and Lyon provide that scenario and we certainly wish them both well.
ussoccer.com: Where are you and your staff on the goalkeeper position heading into 2017?
JE: Building for 2019, we were committed post-Olympics to give significant time to both Alyssa (Naeher) and Ashlyn (Harris). They had great club seasons and needed to see time in full internationals. I am pleased with where we are at, but we are also invested in looking at some of the bright young ‘keepers to deepen our pool. The SheBelieves Cup in March will give us top quality games to see them under greater pressure.
ussoccer.com: Speaking of the SheBelieves Cup, can you talk about this camp being valuable in choosing a roster for the tournament?
JE: The 11 days of camp will give myself and the other coaches a great opportunity to gauge where each individual player is at. With the tournament right around the corner, the players that are fit and ready to perform will definitely help their case towards a roster invitation. We will do a little testing and then jump right into 11v11 as much as possible. The other teams in our tournament will have players active in their leagues, so in that sense we need to get played in as quickly as possible. During this camp, we have a busy week planned and putting our players in the positions and situations they face in the game as much as possible will be the priority.
ussoccer.com: In regards to the two players who recently had children, what are your expectations for Amy Rodriguez in January Camp considering she hasn’t played in this environment in over a year? And will we see Sydney Leroux at some point this year?
JE: I had a good conversation with Amy, and January Camp is a good time for her to come in. Everyone is coming off a break, we’re growing our team and evolving in how we want to play. She needs to get up to speed on that and she knows that. As for Sydney, she’s not 100% cleared for competition yet. Syd will be back in to compete when she’s cleared and at the appropriate event.