Coaching runs in the family for Jill Ellis. When she took to the stage at the Kongresshaus in Zurich to receive her FIFA World Coach of the Year for Women’s Football award on Monday she paid tribute to both her mother and father, who both served as her first coach.
Her natural eye for the game was ultimately rewarded when she guided USA to their third FIFA Women’s World Cup™ win. sat down with the English-born USA head coach after she was named the best of the best in Zurich.
: I think there were a lot of critical moments. I actually think the quarter-final against China, to play as well as we did without two starters on the pitch – because they were suspended to yellow cards – I think it gave us a lot of confidence. I think that game was the springboard to the next two games. In terms of our confidence and how well we could play and push the ball around, but it also solidified to me that Morgan Brian could step into a starting role, as my thoughts were to move Carli [Lloyd] higher up the field. I think the China game made me say ‘ok, she’s performed well in the pressure cooker, let’s start her against Germany’. I think the Germany game was my most satisfying game in terms of preparation and execution. I thought Kelley O’Hara coming in late as a reserve and scoring the second goal, which kind of sealed it for us, I think that was another big, big moment for us. There were a lot of moments along the way in this journey. It was pretty amazing.
With the retirement of so many of our veteran players, this team will have a different look and a different feel. We’re in training camp right now and we’ve got a lot of younger faces, so I think it’s going to be again a blend of experience. I certainly think there are openings in positions for young players to step in and make a run at trying to make this roster.
We have right now a couple of college players, and actually we have one high school player in. Rose Lavelle is in with us right now. Is there an opportunity? Yes I think there’s a lot of good players coming out. Emily Sonnett, whose just graduating college, so she just played in the fall. Emily’s been in with us and has done very, very well. I was able to bring some of these players in for our last few games in December to integrate them and get a sense of them. I think for the young players for us it’s not just seeing them in matches, it’s also seeing them in our training environment. If they can do well in the training environment, it’s almost guaranteed that they can do fairly well in the matches. It’s been a real vetting process of looking at these players, but I think a lot of them have done very well and I’m hopeful that picking players now is always with the future in mind in terms of getting them experience.
It’s a tough group. The fact that only two teams get out, there’s no safety net this year. We have to make sure we hit the ground running. We’re having a camp right now and I think we’re prepared, but it’s always making sure we finish in the top of our group, and then that semi-final game is a critical game. What I love about this team is that I think our approach is that nothing’s guaranteed. We have to earn everything. That’s really where our mindset and our focus is. I think actually in 2011 when our team had to go through a play-off to qualify for the World Cup coming out of our region, I think that constantly sits in the back of your mind. Nothing can be taken for granted in our region. We’re playing against some teams that have been in the World Cup and have a lot of experience.
Gosh! That’s a big question! I think it was probably after the Germany game just walking off the field, it was incredibly loud and just that sense of the players are ready and we’re ready. It’s been a roller coaster in terms of your preparation. I said to the players, “This journey’s not going to be perfect. There’s going to be these ups and downs.” In many ways you learn more about yourself when it’s hard than you do when you win 8-0. It’s those tougher things that get you ready. I think in terms of the process, I think I learned so much about the processes going into this. In terms of feeling a sense of ‘Ok, I think we’ve really started to hit our peak’ was after the Germany game just walking off the field and enjoying the crowd and congratulating the players.
I learned a lot from Pia. Pia and I were a good fit. I love her personality. I think I learned about patience. She’s a very patient coach. Sometimes I’d watch an exercise or a drill we were doing and it wasn’t working and I wanted to stop it and fix it and Pia would let it just evolve, so I think I learned patience from her. Her player management was very, very good. Always in heated or pressured moments being able to take stock of where you are, so I learned a lot from her. She’s a great lady. I was here in 2012 when she got the award, so even to be here and be a part of her support group was great.
Abby in many ways changed the game for us in the USA. The goal in 2011, our country just got behind it. It was such an amazing moment in sport in our country; it kind of put women’s football back on the map in America. In terms of her contribution on the pitch, she’s the greatest goalscorer we’ve had, a leader, a fierce competitor. She really did embody what the DNA of our program is about. On a personal level, it was great for me to be able to take this first job and be ready for a World Cup with Abby as one of our captains, because of her leadership, her counsel and her professionalism. Her role changed from being a player that played 90 minutes to a player that came in off the bench, and her professionalism, her excellence was really something that was important to our success.