USA will head into July’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Germany as firm favourites, as they tend to do for every women’s world finals at any age category. At the helm of the defending champions is coach Jillian Ellis, who expects big things from her young side.
“We have a great tradition in women’s soccer in this country and that is something we’re well aware of,” the coach with 11 years in charge of the women’s program at UCLA told FIFA.com in a recent interview. “But really what’s more important than that is the expectation and pressure we put on ourselves to achieve something in Germany.”
The Americans open their account against African debutants Ghana in Dresden, a game that could well prove a tricky test according to the USA’s England-born coach, who is also an assistant to senior women’s national team manager Pia Sundhage. “Ghana will have all the motivation in the world,” she admits. “Their emotions will be high, playing in their first World Cup, and they’re a bit of an unknown for us.”
Assuming they come out of their opening test unscathed, the Americans will run headlong into Switzerland and Korea Republic, also nervous outings for Ellis’ young side. “I’m familiar with the Koreans’ style – it’s very technical, very organised, very skilful and with a strong emphasis on possession,” said the coach. “The Swiss have striker [Ramona] Bachmann in the team, and we recently came up against her in friendly against her WPS team Atlanta Beat. She is a strong player and will make the Swiss a tough team all by herself.”
Facing, as she does, a tricky group stage, Ellis can take heart in the presence of a senior figure and outstanding 'veteran' in one Sydney Leroux. The Canada-born striker’s five goals in six games two years ago at Chile 2008 saw her receive both the adidas Golden Ball and Golden Shoe for the tournament's top scorer and best player respectively. Having lined up at the age of 14 for Canada at the U-20 finals in Thailand in 2004, Germany 2010 will be Leroux’s third time at a World Cup.
“She [Leroux] is very important to the team,” said Ellis, a striker in her playing days, and Leroux’s coach with the UCLA Bruins. “Her competitive nature is off the charts, and aside from being a leader and veteran, she gets better as the games get tougher.”
When asked if there is any added pressure on her team going into the finals in Germany as defending champions, Ellis is quick to brush away such suggestions. “As far as we’re concerned we’re not going to Germany to defend a title, but to go out and attack and win new one,” she added. “We only have two players in this team who’ve had experience at a World Cup, so we’re all just going to do what we can to achieve something.”
The Americans roared through their qualifying campaign in the CONCACAF zone with hardly any trouble at all, winning all five of their games and scoring 16 goals while conceding just twice. Even so, Ellis believes her side have some improving to do in the coming months before heading to Europe. “We need to get different players scoring goals, so that we’re not totally relying on Sydney all the time.” says the coach. “We also need to score more of the chances we create – and we create quite a few – while tightening up at the back and developing a better overall rhythm.”