By Maggie Hendricks | Oct. 06, 2019, 6:03 p.m. (ET)

Jill Ellis States looks on prior to the second game of the USWNT Victory Tour on Aug. 29, 2019 in Philadelphia.

 

CHICAGO – As the referees whistled to signal the end of the final game of the U.S. women’s national team’s victory tour, head coach Jill Ellis hugged every one of her assistant coaches and walked onto the field to celebrate with her players. Though the game against South Korea ended in a 1-1 tie, this international friendly was really about celebrating Ellis in her final game after five years as the USWNT’s coach. 

South Korea struck first, with Ji So-Yun scoring at the 34th minute. The U.S. struck back quickly, with Carli Lloyd scoring a header in the 37th minute off of a Megan Rapinoe pass.  

The U.S had chances to get the go-ahead goal in stoppage time, but both Mallory Pugh and Christen Press missed on late shots. A second Lloyd goal was waved off for her being offsides. The U.S. took 15 shots to Korea’s five. 

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In the final minutes, the USWNT coaching staff was frantically waving for the team to press forward to get in as many scoring chances as possible. 

“I talked a lot about emotions, and that's why you do what you do,” Ellis said after the game. “Honestly, that last 20-30 minutes, it was just fun-filled, exciting, edge-of-your-seat, frustrating. It just epitomized what this team is about. Pushing on the edge, trying to make it happen, always fighting until the end.

“I always say to the players that we want to play well, but we also want to entertain, and I think the fans got a pretty exciting last 20 minutes of that game.” 

The players were hoping to end the victory tour and Ellis’ career with a win on National Coaches Day, but this game brings to a close a thrilling year for the entire US Soccer program. 

"It's been a long year for us, but in the second half, I'm proud of us,” Julie Ertz said. “We had a lot of game changers that came in. We had a lot of chances to win and couldn't put it away. Unfortunately, we couldn't get Jill the win, and that was important for us today. A lot of tears and a lot of celebration. “

Ellis leaves the team as the US Soccer’s winningest coach, passing Tony DiCicco’s record with a win in Charlotte on Thursday night. She’s the only coach of a women’s team, and one of just two coaches in FIFA history, to have won back-to-back World Cups. In 2015 and 2019, she was named FIFA’s Women’s Coach of the Year. Her record stands at 106-7-19.  

She made the decision to move on from the position around Christmas. Regardless of what the team did in the World Cup, she wanted to give someone else the experience of coaching at the Olympics in 2020 before the next World Cup in 2023. 

"There's a shelf life to this job, I believe. It always allows for the ability to be change in perspective,” Ellis said. “On a personal level, I've got a high school freshman that I've probably missed more of her birthdays than I've been there for, and there's a personal connection and peace to it that came when I made the decision.” 

Her team did win the FIFA Women's World Cup, and the trophy stood at center field as US Soccer presented her with a signed, framed jersey before the game and showed a tribute video. The fans at Soldier Field gave her a standing ovation as Ellis hugged her family. 

“It's the moments you enjoy the most, and those come from the people. It's not so much getting the trophy, or a hard loss. It's about those moments that make you feel alive. That comes from the people. It's the players, it's the staff you surround yourself with.

Her players credited her belief in them in helping them grow both on and off the field. 

“She's always believed in me. Coming back from a hamstring injury was really, really hard,” said Rose Lavelle, who joined the USWNT in 2017 and who scored in the World Cup final earlier this year. “More so mentally than physically, but I feel like I always had her on my side. She never doubted I could get back to where I was before the injury.”

Ertz said what really made Ellis a special coach is how she continued to grow and develop as a coach, and how she helped players grow over time. 

“Continuing to develop us, even in the hard times of bringing new people in. Growing the game, seeing a vision, it might not have shown in one game, or one training. But over time, being able to do that,” said Ertz, who was on both of Ellis’ World Cup-winning teams. “Seeing a vision, where soccer was going to go within the four years, and continuing to grow that and stay on top of the women's game is not easy.” 

Maggie Hendricks is based in Chicago and has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for more than 10 years for USA Today and Yahoo Sports. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.