|Jill Ellis stands near the bench prior to the game against China
during an international friendly match at Qualcomm Stadium on
April 10, 2014 in San Diego, California.
Jill Ellis officially can shed the interim part of her job title today.
And that is a good thing, since the newly named U.S. women’s soccer coach has a lot to do between now and next summer, when her U.S. players compete for a Women’s World Cup title in Canada. One year after that, the team will look to defend its Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro.
Ellis had been an assistant coach for two U.S. Olympic gold-medal-winning women’s teams in 2008 and 2012 and had been an interim head coach twice, but now she can fully embrace the role as head coach.
The expectations for both the World Cup, which runs from June 6-July 5, 2015, and the Olympic Games are huge for Ellis and her new team.
As if the expectations for the women’s team were not already clear, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati made a point of laying out the goal for her new job, saying, “The job description is to win next summer.” The United States hasn’t won the World Cup since Mia Hamm and the “Fab Five” took home the title in a packed Rose Bowl in 1999.
“I know the expectations and embrace the expectations,” Ellis said in a conference call with reporters on Friday. “I know we want to win, and this team is capable of winning.”
Ellis, 47, has had a habit of winning throughout her career both with U.S. Soccer’s youth teams and in the college ranks. Ellis has served stints as coach of the U.S. Under-20 and Under-21 Women’s National Teams. Her most notable achievements in the college ranks came at UCLA, which she led to eight NCAA Final Fours in 12 years. Since January 2011, she had served as U.S. Soccer’s Women’s Development Director, a role she no longer will keep.
One of her strengths, Ellis said, is that she has such strong connections with the youth program and has known many of the players on the national team for several years.
Ellis was named interim coach of the women’s national team April 6, when U.S. Soccer made the surprising announcement that Tom Sermanni had been fired after just 15 months on the job. Ellis had also served as the team’s interim coach in 2012, leading the women’s squad to a 5-0-2 record.
Since Sermanni’s firing, Ellis guided the U.S. team to victory against China and a tie against Canada. U.S. Soccer is banking on Ellis to right the ship that had made a disappointing 1-2-1 run at the Algarve Cup in March.
The U.S. team will face fourth-ranked France in two friendly matches, June 14 in Tampa, Florida, and June 19 in East Hartford, Connecticut.
Those will be tune-up matches as the U.S. team prepares for World Cup qualifying. U.S. Soccer has been selected to host the CONCACAF qualifying tournament in October. Three teams from the tournament will earn spots for the World Cup. The format, schedule, venues and ticket information for the qualifying tournament will be announced at a later date.
Although the U.S. women’s team has been tremendously successful at the Olympic Games, winning the last three gold medals, it has struggled in the World Cup. After winning the inaugural women’s World Cup tournament in 1991 and then the 1999 edition, the team finished third, third and second in the next three tournaments.
Born in England, Ellis was raised in a soccer household. Her father, John, has served in numerous soccer roles, coaching in Trinidad and Tobago and developing soccer programs in Singapore. He also was an assistant coach with the U.S. Women’s National Team in 2000. Her brother, Paul, also coached.
Now is Ellis’ chance to create her own legacy.
Said Ellis: “Moving forward with this group is a huge honor.”
Amy Rosewater is a freelance writer and editor for TeamUSA.org. A former sports reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, she covered her fifth Olympic Games in Sochi. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today.