Jill Ellis

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Jill Ellis content to get off USWNT ‘roller coaster’

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PASADENA, Calif. — Jill Ellis likened her tenure in charge of the U.S. women’s national team to an amusement park ride. She also compared it to a tumultuous ride on a five-year wave.

The most successful head coach in program history seems quite content to get off this merry-go-round on her own terms.

Ellis was upbeat Friday when she joined her players at the Rose Bowl for their first workout ahead of a five-game exhibition Victory Tour designed to bring the World Cup winners to their legions of domestic fans. The tour got a slight damper Tuesday when Ellis announced she will step down at its conclusion.

Before her team’s first game since her decision, the only two-time Women’s World Cup-winning coach expressed pride in her work and optimism for the future without her, starting with the Tokyo Olympics next year.

But more than anything else, Ellis exuded calm about her decision to walk away on top.

“When I took the job … it was the beginning of a cycle, and now I feel like this is the end of a cycle,” Ellis said. “I know the Olympics is very close, but that begins another cycle, if that makes sense. I think the timing is now. … I mean, five and a half years is kind of a long time in this job, which has been great and such a privilege. But I didn’t give much consideration to coaching next year.”

Ellis likely could have stayed on through Tokyo, but decided to give a head start to her successor. She had a few words of advice for whoever steps into her large shoes.

“It’s a roller coaster. Put your seatbelt on,” Ellis said with a grin. “Enjoy the ride, because you’re going to expect highs and lows. It’s the wave analogy. It’s the trough and the crest. You can’t have a beautiful ocean without both of those. You can’t have this journey without all the highs and lows.”

The 52-year-old Ellis lost exactly seven of her 127 games since May 2014, winning eight tournaments and half of the nation’s four World Cup titles. When her team raised the trophy last month in France, the Americans reaffirmed their status as the world’s dominant program.

“Well, I’m selfishly sad,” World Cup hero Rose Lavelle said. “I’ve really enjoyed having her as a coach. I feel like I’ve grown so much the past three years, and I’m sad, but I’m happy she went out on top and now has some time with her family to enjoy.”

No coach can match Ellis’ international accomplishments, yet she still faced near-constant scrutiny for her tactics, lineup decisions and substitution patterns – even from former and current players for a team that never lost a game at two World Cups.

Megan Rapinoe said she “wasn’t super surprised” by Ellis’ decision.

“It’s obviously a very difficult job to have, and to be able to go out on top is obviously a nice way to go,” the Golden Ball winner added.

Christen Press praised Ellis for her ability to create a structured training environment similar to the stability of a men’s club team – a difficult feat given the unstable, traveling nature of national teams.

“It’s hard for me to imagine that any program in any sport would have this level of meticulous detail and control,” Press said. “I think Jill was able to do that because she was in the system before she was the head coach. We’re taking everything that we do on the road, so every single training facility is different. When you have a meeting is different. What you’re eating is different. It’s the head coach’s job to oversee that, and it was such a seamless thing for us. We could really focus.”

After this tour ends Oct. 6 in Chicago, Ellis will spend at least the next year working for U.S. Soccer as an ambassador. That hasn’t stopped widespread speculation about her long-term plans, but Ellis isn’t sharing in it.

“I haven’t given any thought to my future, I really haven’t,” Ellis said. “I just felt the timing was right. The timing is right for whoever the new coach is. The timing was right for me on a personal level with my family. I’m going to still be working in a capacity for a while for U.S. Soccer, so I haven’t even thought about coaching another team at this point. “

The U.S. women are opening the tour with the team’s fifth-ever game at the famed Rose Bowl, where they won the World Cup in 1999 on Brandi Chastain’s penalty shot. A statue of Chastain celebrating her goal was dedicated outside the stadium last month.

Rapinoe and Alex Morgan won’t play in the tour opener at the Rose Bowl while they recover from minor injuries.

Ellis stepping down as USWNT coach

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Two-time World Cup champion Jill Ellis is going out on top.

Ellis, 52, is stepping away from the United States women’s national team after 127 matches and a 102W-7L-18D record since 2014.

[ MORE: Gana Gueye joins PSG ]

The Portsmouth, England native won everything but Olympic gold with the USWNT, and was named the 2015 Women’s World Coach of the Year.

In a statement, U.S. Soccer announced that Ellis will stay with the team through the victory tour and then moved into an ambassador’s role. It also says the new USWNT general manager’s hiring is “imminent.”

From USSoccer.com:

“The opportunity to coach this team and work with these amazing women has been the honor of a lifetime,” Ellis said. “I want to thank and praise them for their commitment and passion to not only win championships but also raise the profile of this sport globally while being an inspiration to those who will follow them. I want to sincerely thank the world class coaches and staff with whom I’ve had the privilege to work – they are quintessential professionals and even better people. And finally, I want to thank the Federation for their support and investment in this program, as well as all the former players, coaches, and colleagues that have played an important role in this journey.”

Ellis sometimes confounded with her lineup choices, but ultimately did a masterful job navigating the deepest squad pool and group of egos in the world. She transitioned the USWNT from a side focused on Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd to a group that utilized a more complete attack, and won World Cups with both Wambach and Lloyd accepting super sub roles.

Who the USSF chooses to take her place will have a gigantic hill to climb, as Europe is investing heavily in women’s soccer and the sport is as competitive as ever. The new coach will also have to help keep the USWNT on track on the field as it battles the federation for equal pay and conditions.

How should USWNT line up for World Cup final?

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Jill Ellis will be having a few sleepless nights between now and the World Cup final on Sunday in Lyon.

The USWNT face the Netherlands in the 2019 final (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET online via Telemundo Deportes) with a few injury issues to contend with, while the main problem for Ellis is that she can only select 11 players to start.

[ MORE: US players ratings v England ]

After gritty wins against Spain, France and England to reach a third-straight World Cup final,  plenty of players have stood tall for the defending champs as Ellis shuffled her pack for the epic semifinal victory.

Will she revert to the same lineup which started against France and Spain for the final? Or are more shocks coming up?

[ WATCH: Every Women’s World Cup game ] 

Here’s a look at how we think the USWNT should start on Sunday as they aim to go back-to-back.


USWNT starting lineup for 2019 World Cup final

—– Naeher —–

—- O’Hara —- Sauerbrunn —- Dahlkemper —- Dunn —-

—- Lavelle —- Ertz —- Horan —-

—- Heath —- Morgan —- Press —-


Analysis

Quite simply, if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it, Jill. The USWNT looked balanced and dangerous against a very good England side in the semifinal and just like in previous games they were solid enough defensively and were composed, if not exhilarating, in attack.

The center back pairing are a bit of a weak spot in the team, but at this point Sauebrunn and Dahlkemper deserve to play in the final. As do Lindsey Horan and Christen Press who both came in and did extremely well against England. Press in particular has given Ellis a huge selection headache as Megan Rapinoe may be left out in the final. Both Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle are nursing injuries but both have declared themselves fit for Sunday’s final because, well, if you’re a player you don’t rule yourself out of playing in the World Cup final, do you?

With the Netherlands possessing plenty of trickery out wide with Lieke Martens and Lineth Beerensteyn, having Press and Tobin Heath out wide to track back is just as important in the final as it was against England. If Lavelle isn’t fit then Sam Mewis is a dependable player to bring in and shore up central midfield alongside the excellent Julie Ertz, but Lavelle’s dynamism and runs into the box give the U.S. a different dimension in midfield.

It will be harsh to leave Rapinoe and Mewis out, but Ellis is on the verge of becoming the first coach in history to win back-to-back women’s World Cup titles. Sentiment has to go out of the window, and Ellis isn’t afraid to do that.

Three things we learned from USWNT win

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Wow. Exhale.

The United States women withstood another big European challenge on Tuesday and stayed on track to defend their Women’s World Cup title following a 2-1 defeat of England which included VAR calling back an England goal and awarding the Lionesses a penalty.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Match recap ]

Oh, and one of the Yanks’ perceived weak links stopped said penalty.

Again: Wow.

Alyssa Naeher stands tall… again

“She has to be Player of the Match,” said Alex Morgan of goalkeeper Alex Naeher’s performance. “She saved our butts today.”

It’s difficult to put it any better than the American striker, who scored what stood up as the match-winning goal because her goalkeeper was so good in the second half.

Naeher’s most notable moment will go down as the save of Steph Houghton’s late penalty kick, but the 31-year-old Connecticut stood a whole lot bigger than her listed height of 5-foot-9 when she flew through the air for a two-handed save earlier in the second half.

But again, everyone’s going to be talking about the penalty save (even with the poor attempt from Houghton).

“I just said that was your shining moment, but we have one more game,” said USWNT coach Jill Ellis. “What a fricking stop.”

(AP Photo/Francois Mori)

No Rapinoe, no problem: Lineup tumult fails to faze

To a player, the United States women’s national team has spoken about its strength in depth, with backup left back Ali Krieger issuing the most confident/arrogant of any quotes in the tournament (depending on if you’re a supporter or a detractor).

“We have the best team in the world, and the second-best team in the world,” she said in mid-June.

While, of course, that’s an exaggeration, the belief clearly flows through the team. Christen Press stepped in for Megan Rapinoe and scored the opening goal, then put in a monumental shift which included a hockey assist on Morgan’s headed winner.

It should be noted that Press is actually more productive than Rapinoe over her USWNT career, with 48 goals in 121 caps as opposed to Rapinoe’s 49 in 157. But we digress…

“It’s crazy. It was so emotional. The heart and grit it takes to score twos goals with our head early, save a penalty, have a goal taken back… to stay strong, stay composed, and stay calm,” she said.

Women’s soccer is at its pinnacle

Perhaps it would be more fitting for this tournament had the English upset the USWNT, because an all-newcomer final between the Netherlands and England would’ve met the tournament storyline at eye level.

This Women’s World Cup is the best top-to-bottom tournament yet, with collective guards down and nations 100 percent on show.

Comparing the men’s and women’s games is fraught with risk and rather silly, so let’s dance with the one that brought us here; Each Women’s World Cup has been a step in the right direction, right down to the once-dominant USWNT needing to brush off its shoulders as Germany and Japan kept them from the final for two cycles.

As the Americans angle to become the second nation to repeat as World Cup champions, it’s worth noting the nations not in the semifinals. No Germany, no France, no Japan, no Brazil. Dark horses at the start of the tournament had a real chance to shine, and it’s difficult to see that dipping as Italy and Spain rise and many more are sure to follow by investing in the game.

USWNT, England set for World Cup semi showdown

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Planning ahead or arrogance? That’s the question being overblown asked of the United States women’s national team following England coach Phil Neville‘s revelation that USWNT operations people were given a tour of England’s team hotel.

As the “home team,” England has the better of the lodging for the semifinal, and the USWNT hopes to be taking its place for Sunday’s Final against either the Netherlands or Sweden.

[ MORE: Will Ellis change XI? ]

So is showing up early presumptuous or just proper preparation?

“I just thought, ‘What are they doing?'” Neville said of the Americans. “It’s not etiquette, really. It’s not something I would allow from our organization.”

What he will allow is what both teams provide, and that’s excellent team soccer. Tuesday’s match has the chance to be a wide-open entertaining match as two tough back lines hope to defy some of the best attackers in the world.

England has only allowed one goal in the tournament, a late concession in its 2-1 tournament-opening defeat of Scotland. That means the Lionesses count shutouts of Norway and Japan on their resume, and that’s pretty impressive.

Meanwhile the U.S. is coming off some tepid offensive performances, at least by their standards. The Yanks passed at just 64 percent in the 2-1 defeat of France, and their 2-1 defeat of Spain came courtesy of a pair of penalty kicks.

Fortunately for Jill Ellis’ crew, goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher was much better in the latter of the 2-1 wins. The 31-year-old was mostly untested and shaky in the run-up to France, but outstanding in holding onto the lead.

England has become a force on the international scene, and is in its second-straight World Cup semifinal. They won the SheBelievesCup, and finished in the semifinals at EURO 2017.

Ellen White has been a handful for teams, scoring five times in four matches. She also scored the lone goal in a 1-0 defeat of the USMNT at the 2017 SheBelieves Cup.

There’s every reason to believe it’ll be a beauty at 3 p.m. ET Tuesday. You’ll be able to stream it live on Telemundo Deportes.