CHICAGO — Retiring U.S. Soccer women’s national team coach Jill Ellis already knows she’ll be emotional on Sunday at Soldier Field.
The two-time FIFA women’s coach of the year will lead the World Cup champions in the final game of their six-game victory tour when the U.S. team faces South Korea.
“We built the best team in the world,” Ellis said Saturday. “We were incredibly successful over the years. People have been drawn to this team because of the personality and the success.”
The 2-0 victory against South Korea on Thursday was Ellis’ record 106th, passing former coach Tony DiCicco for the most team wins before an announced crowd of 30,071 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
It will be a bittersweet leave-taking after five years at the helm for Ellis and the players.
“We always have a quick meeting before our pregame meal, and that’s going to be hard to get through,” Ellis said. “They know I’m already getting emotional.”
Star forward Megan Rapinoe said Ellis adapted to a changing game and players over the years.
“Constantly trying to keep up with that, keep above it, with personnel and the way we’re been trying to play, she’s been pretty adaptable in that way,” Rapinoe said. “It would nice to send her out with a win after back-to-back World Cups.”
Forward Carli Lloyd said Ellis leaves the team’s legacy in a strong place.
“It’s been a fantastic journey to be a part of,” Lloyd said. “It’s finding a way. It took all 23 players, like it always does. Every major tournament, the story line is different. And it’s only going to get harder and harder. Winning is great, but without the journey, there would be no end bit.”
Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher calls it a fitting celebration after their victory in France.
“This team has been something special,” Naeher said. “Coming off this summer … to celebrate Jill and what she’s done for U.S. soccer and this team.”
Ellis said she decided in December this would be her last year in charge, win or lose.
“If you’re blessed to do a back-to-back World Cup, it’s pretty unusual,” Ellis said. “There’s a shelf life to this job, I believe, and I think that’s healthy. It allows the ability to have change and perspective. It’s not like a college job, where there’s an incoming class.”
Ellis added she’s looking forward to attending more birthdays with her daughter, Lily.
“There’s a personal peace to that decision,” Ellis said. “I feel good. I feel complete.”
A new coach will be hired after U.S. Soccer selects a new general manager for the team (18-1-2). With assistant coach Tony Gustavsson also retiring after eight years, the coaching search is wide open heading into the Tokyo Olympics.
“The game has changed significantly,” Ellis said. “To the person who comes after me, I’d say this is not 1991 or 1999. There’s a lot more teams playing with a lot more investment. The margins are pretty fine. I had the benefit of being an assistant prior to taking the job, so I knew the players.”
The British-born Ellis announced her retirement in July. She played college soccer at William & Mary and was head coach at Illinois and UCLA before joining the U.S. national ranks as an under-21 coach in 2000.
Ellis became the U.S. team head coach in 2014 and led it to eight overall tournament titles, including the 2015 and 2019 World Cup titles. The U.S. lost just seven matches during her tenure.
The 53-year-old Ellis said the new coach will have a “good sense of our players,” and “it’s just getting up to speed in the depth of the squad.”