Jill Ellis, who had no organized soccer available to her growing up in England, made an indelible mark on the women’s game this decade as a coach in the United States.
Ellis was twice the interim coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team before taking over the position permanently in 2014. Now, she is the first coach to win back-to-back World Cups and is a two-time FIFA World Coach of the Year.
After playing college soccer at William and Mary in 1987, Ellis rose to prominence guiding the UCLA women’s program to unprecedented heights. Over a 12-year period, the Manchester United supporter led the Bruins to eight Final Fours, including a stretch of seven in a row (2003-09).
Ellis’ inauguration with the USWNT came as an assistant to Pia Sundhage at the 2008 Olympics – the first of her four major trophies earned as either an assistant or head coach.
She’s retired as the all-time winningest coach for the U.S. women following a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands in the 2019 World Cup final in France.
Pro Soccer USA’s Glenn Crooks caught up with Ellis recently on SiriusXM FC’s “Defining Moments of the Decade.”
Pro Soccer USA: Among the memorable moments, is there one that stands out to you?
Jill Ellis: “I probably would have to say the match against France in the World Cup [this summer]. Just because of the magnitude of the game and just the atmosphere, it was unbelievable. It was packed, it was loud and tense and there was so much at stake and so I think that was probably the moment.”
PSUSA: There has been speculation that France was a team – or one of the teams – that was catching up to the U.S. or maybe had even surpassed the Americans. Was that part of the satisfaction?
JE: “I mean, winning is the satisfaction. Whether we were favorites or not, I just think that because of the mentality of our team I always fancy our chances no matter what the numbers are. There are a lot of good teams and there isn’t a large gap. You have to perform on the day to create that separation. In terms of resources and players and talent and domestic leagues a lot of these countries now have that so then it comes down to in the moment and the performance. It was a very good performance considering the magnitude of the game.”
PSUSA: You are noted for your calm demeanor, but you’ve coached some massive personalities. When you look back, who are the characters that really stand out for you.
JE: “I’ve been around since 2008 when Pia brought me in for the Beijing Olympics, so it’s hard to pinpoint. Abby Wambach and Christie Rampone were captains in 2015. Carli Lloyd had an amazing World Cup. This World Cup, it was a perfect blend of some of our senior veterans — Meg Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Kelly O’Hara and Julie Ertz, coming into her own in the World Cup. It’s hard to say which one’s, but the players who have stepped up in those big moments will forever be remembered in terms of the legacy.”
PSUSA: One of those personalities won the Ballon d’Or: Megan Rapinoe.
JE: “Pinoe, she’s been a stand-out for many years. I know people still remember one of the biggest moments in 2011 when she served the ball to Abby against Brazil. She’s been a mainstay in this program for a long, long time. What was kind of cool about 2019, there was a social movement that blended well with Megan’s desire to further advance social activism in terms of the things that she supports. Then to have that impact on the field as well it was almost the perfect storm.”
PSUSA: You mentioned the emergence of Julie Ertz. During qualifying for the 2015 World Cup, she wasn’t even in discussion to be featured. Now, after playing a massive role for two World Cup title teams, she was named the U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year.
JE: “I don’t know if you remember in Japan, the U20 World Cup [in 2012]. In those games, Julie was just a tour de force. She was just very, very special in that tournament. So, she was not completely a player in the shadows. What happened in 2015 was Christie Rampone unfortunately got injured and JJ stepped into that role and never looked back. I think that it’s fitting, the recognition this year. It doesn’t matter what environment, she is going to stand out. Whether in a training exercise, and random people come and watch our training, she’s going to stand out. And now, the versatility that she added in terms of being able to play multiple positions — she’s a tremendous player and I’m super happy for her to get the award this year.”
PSUSA: Is there a trophy won in this decade that you found the most impressive?
JE: “Because they increased the size of the Women’s World Cup, I said 2015 would be the hardest World Cup to win. But now, I’d have to say 2019 because the level of teams. It was the most competitive and probably the hardest route we had to take to get to the trophy. This one was probably the one that stood out to me as just an exceptional performance.”
PSUSA: Can you classify how the USWNT have impacted the women’s game on the global level?
JE: “I don’t know if you saw this before the World Cup final, the Netherlands put out a video thanking the U.S. team, which I think was pretty remarkable and probably unprecedented. It was thanking the U.S. players for moving the game forward, but also advocating. And I thought that was a telling sign of just the reach of this team, not in terms of just popularity but in terms of affecting players in other countries like fighting for salaries. Players from some countries still buy their own equipment. I think the other thing that’s been great is have international players coming to our domestic league [NWSL] and getting to train with our players and see the intensity and they see the level of fitness. We are helping to grow their games and likewise they can help our players.”