On Friday, Feb. 24, U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Jill Ellis named her final 23-player roster that will represent the USA at the 2017 SheBelieves Cup. As the world's No.1-ranked team and reigning World Cup champions prepare to kick off the tournament against the current Olympic champion and No. 2 ranked Germany, ussoccer.com sat down with Ellis to discuss her thought-process for selecting the roster as well as the team's readiness in the lead up to the beginning of the 2017 schedule.
ussoccer.com: How has training camp progressed in Orlando and what were the major factors in picking these 23 players?
Jill Ellis: The week of preparation has been very good. Getting to play a match against an outside opponent, against boys, was very valuable because we haven’t had a full game going into SheBelieves. In that game we got a lot of answers and saw a lot of good things. In looking at how we should approach a roster, it’s first and foremost, which players we feel can help us be successful to win games, and then making sure we have cover and depth.
I think the difference this year from perhaps the preceding years is that we’re not using this environment as a place where a player can just come in and work their way back into form and fitness. It’s now about them having to be ready to deliver at least 75 minutes in a SheBelieves game. It’s not ideal to take a player who is not yet “played in” and can potentially only give you 15-20 minutes. When you’re building for a world event you will invest in a player who you think will make the final roster, even if they are working their way back in, because you want them to hear the information, stay connected and sense that they are going to be a part of that team for a world event. In this phase we’re in, it’s about taking players who are ready or needing to gain experience. The reality is if a player is not ready right now, we have a big window in which to continue their evaluation and assessment. And of course the NWSL will play a big role in that.
ussoccer.com: This is the first time Mallory Pugh is back in the squad since the Olympics after playing with the U-20s and recovering from an injury, what did you see from her this week?
JE: Mal went through the U-20 World Cup at the end of last year and then for sure needed some down time, and to let her knee heal a little bit. But she’s been back training, working out at college, and she’s been in a training environment so she’s come in and she’s shown well. She looks good and fit and I think she’s going to be an important piece in our roster in SheBelieves.
ussoccer.com: You chose 16-year-old Brianna Pinto – who played in last year’s U-17 Women’s World Cup – for the roster. What did you see from her over January Camp and the Orlando camp that earned her a spot?
JE: I think with Brianna, part of it is that you have to make sure that a player can help immediately, but also ask yourself, what do you see potentially in this player? And what I see in her is someone that already from a January Camp until now is getting more comfortable, is answering questions in meetings and asking questions on the field. She’s someone that is fully engaged, and in the match against the boys, she showed she is a player who wants the ball, and those are some special qualities. Giving her the exposure and experience of being in SheBelieves, which is a big tournament, is a massive investment. Couple that with the fact that with Andi Sullivan getting injured (last fall during the college season), we have less availability in pure 6s. My commitment is to look at Allie (Long) in the role we’ve been playing her in, so what Brianna gives us is more cover in that central midfielder position.
ussoccer.com: Can you talk about the three players in camp that did not make the SheBelieves Cup roster (Meghan Klingenberg, Amy Rodriguez, Sarah Killion)?
JE: For Meghan, the message was ‘you’re not quite ready’. She’s been battling an injury, she’s been out from all physical activity for a long time and I certainly wanted to bring her in and have a look at her and see where she’s at, but Meghan and I both understand that right now she’s not ready to jump into that intense 90-minute environment. She’s working her way back and the Thorns will be a great platform where she can build herself back up.
With Amy, again, making sure we give these players an evaluation is important. I think A-Rod in truth, is further ahead of where I thought she’d be after a year off. Not only is Amy playing her way back, but she is also processing a lot of new information from the end of the World Cup until now. The messaging was similar, keep progressing and return to your club environment and be ready to get after it in your pre-season.
What I said to Sarah was that I was specifically looking at players that play her position, and digging a little deeper into that process meant taking another look at her. She is definitely someone we will continue to monitor. Sharpening up her speed of play is going to be a focus for her, but for sure, being in this environment has helped her understand the demands and pace of the international level.
ussoccer.com: You’ve called in Jessica McDonald, who was not in the Orlando camp, to join the team in Philadelphia for the tournament. What factors led to that decision?
JE: Jess was close to joining us in this camp, but I felt that I wanted to have another look at A-Rod here. I wanted to have this camp be smaller (in roster numbers) so we could really focus and get players on the field in an 11 aside game and not rotating. Jess is 90-minutes fit and she is a player that can give us a spark off the bench. Evaluating where A-Rod was at this point, and with the reality that Alex (Morgan) took a knock in France, it made it important that we have coverage in that central position. We have Lynn (Williams), (Christen) Press and Alex as pure 9s, and we felt that we needed another central player that could provide that for us.
ussoccer.com: With only five days until the tournament opener and with a final roster now set, does the preparation change and what are you hoping to see in these final days before the first match?
JE: The energy has been great and you can hear the vibe in the bus and on the field, and even with the coaches, we’re ready for games. We want to get this started. It’s been a valuable week here in terms of looking at big picture things. We’ve certainly drilled into set pieces a little bit more, and I feel that looking at our attacking and defending core components, we’ve got a lot of things covered and we’re ready to compete.
ussoccer.com: There’s no easing into this year’s schedule with Germany up first. What do you expect from that opening match of the tournament?
JE: It’s always going to be a massive game for both countries. Germany has gone through a coaching change and there are slightly different nuances to how they’re playing. I think they are also looking at different players in terms of roster so it’s a perfect game for us to test ourselves against the Olympic champions. I said to the players at the beginning of camp, the more we get stretched and tested right now the better, because that’s what going to allow us to add more layers to our own development.
ussoccer.com: Do you have a plan for the goalkeepers heading into SheBelieves?
JE: I think continuing the theme of making sure that Alyssa (Naeher) and Ash (Harris) both gain experience. And a tournament experience where getting on a podium is at stake, both need to experience that pressure.
JE: In my tenure, I haven’t dealt with international players joining us purely at FIFA windows so it’s a slightly different experience for me personally but obviously we’ve kept in contact with them, both visually in terms of watching their games, and obviously through constant communication. We’re excited to have them join us in camp and ready for them to help us be successful Read more