CHICAGO — Most of the United States women’s national team’s Victory Tour has been about celebrating the World Cup title. Sunday’s Victory Tour finale was about sending off coach Jill Ellis.
The USWNT played South Korea at Soldier Field in front of an announced crowd of 33,027. It was Ellis’ last game as the team’s coach and though the players pushed hard for a second goal in the final minutes, the match ended in a 1-1 draw.
Ellis was honored before the match with a 132 jersey, the number of games she coached with the team. A video tribute was played on the scoreboard. The team’s Twitter account also changed its display name to #ThankYouJill for the weekend. Her family — mom, dad, wife and daughter — and friends met her on the field. Tears were shed.
Ellis said she got choked up when high-fiving players on their way out to the field.
“I’m privileged to have done this job for so long and played so many games,” Ellis said, sitting beside her daughter, Lily, in a postgame news conference. “It’s just been an honor. Numbers and all that kind of fade away. It becomes about the players and staff and the people and just the memories. I’ve got a trunk full of memories for this for sure. It’s been fantastic.”
Sunday’s game was certainly the last of an era. The World Cup celebration is now over. Ellis is no longer in charge after becoming the winningest coach in program history with a 106-7-19 record since 2014.
“For Jill, being the leader of our team and all that she’s led us through, all the wins, all the ups and downs, all of the different lineups and different formations, the doubts and everything — to be able to actually accomplish our goal is something really special,” winger Megan Rapinoe said. “It’s something that you can’t really put into words.”
The USWNT’s next match is only a month away, Nov. 7 against Sweden, but that will be with a new coach and a team that is preparing for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, less than 10 months away.
Plenty of changes could come between now and then, but Sunday was a day of reflection for the players, coaches and staff.
“Obviously this is her last game, but this is also our last game as a group,” goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher said. “Not just as 23 players, but with this staff and this group. Nobody really knows what’s coming next after the Victory Tour so there’s no more guarantees of anything. For us, this is a chance to celebrate and be together one last time and obviously give Jill the sendoff that she deserves.”
As for Sunday’s game, South Korea took the lead in the 34th minute via a Ji Soyun goal. That was the first goal the U.S. allowed in its five Victory Tour matches.
Carli Lloyd provided a quick response three minutes later. She camped out at the back post and headed in a Megan Rapinoe corner.
The U.S. nearly got a winner in a chaotic finish that featured the Americans hitting the goal frame twice. Lloyd thought she had a 93rd minute game-winner, but was ruled offside before scoring.
“I haven’t seen the replay yet on mine, but I was told I wasn’t offside,” Lloyd said. “It would have been nice to send Jill out with another win. It’s been a long, tough year for everybody. We’re all kind of on different pages. Those last few minutes were quite exciting.”
The U.S. was denied victory for the first time since a March 2 draw against England in the SheBelieves Cup. The U.S. had won 17 straight matches.
Of local interest, four Chicago Red Stars — Naeher, Julie Ertz, Tierna Davidson and Casey Short — started in front of the home crowd. Short was not a part of the World Cup roster. She was a late addition with injuries to some of the regulars. Morgan Brian subbed in at halftime to make it five Red Stars on the field at once.
“It’s been an unbelievable journey,” Ellis said. “It’s been the most rewarding job, the hardest job I’ve ever had and the job that has helped me grow.
“It’s not regret. It’s not relief. It’s honestly a big smile on my face saying I’ve enjoyed this and I’m ready for what’s next.”