CHICAGO — If Sunday was the end of an era for the U.S. women’s national team, now the new one must begin to take shape.
Jill Ellis coached her last game with the team in Sunday’s 1-1 draw with South Korea. As the players pointed out after, it’s not just Ellis who is leaving.
“This group will probably never be together again, so it means a lot,” defender Casey Short said. “It’s pretty special to have one last game together and one last goodbye.”
While Sunday was emotional, the next step isn’t far away. The USWNT next plays Nov. 7, and the Olympics are less than 10 months away. There are plenty of questions to answer before then. Who will be the new coach? What will the preparation be like after such a taxing 2019, both physically and emotionally?
“It’s kind of just a part of the team,” midfielder Julie Ertz said. “We always have something else. Another game, another tournament.
“I think now is really just getting your body and your mind right because it was such a whirlwind of 2019.”
When Ellis guided the U.S. to the 2015 World Cup title, they were unable to follow up with success in the Olympics the following year. Many of the same players are still a part of this squad. They hope they’ve learned some lessons on how to follow up on winning a World Cup.
The U.S. has won four of the eight World Cups and four of the six Olympic gold medals, but it has never won them in consecutive years. No country has.
“What we learned in 2015 is you need a break and you need to do that mentally and physically,” Ertz said. “It is a shift from that as well and I think the new coach will kind of understand that as well, whoever that will be. Our staff has been absolutely fantastic and the support has been huge. I think that’s what we learned in 2016. So I’m really excited for 2020, but right now it’s kind of a weird bittersweet moment of just really excited obviously for the growth of it, but also a hard time because you do close a chapter.”
The year is winding down for some players, but others are preparing for a stretch run with their club teams. Five NWSL sides have one week left in the season. The four playoff teams, all already clinched, still have one or two big matches left in 2019.
The downtime will be key for Carli Lloyd. She’s will turn 38 just before the Olympics begin, and there have been questions about her future, but it doesn’t sound like she’s thinking about retiring yet.
“Everybody is on kind of different pages,” Lloyd said. “Some are in playoffs. Some are not in playoffs. I think it’s going to be one of those things where now we can kind of hit the reset button. A coach will be announced at some point and then it’s kind of getting back into that refocus mode. I’m looking forward to one more game with Sky Blue and then starting the rebuilding phase. For me, the offseason is very, very important, where I rebuild myself and continue to push on and get better. All good things and we’ll see what happens with the new coach moving forward.”
Regardless of who the new coach is, Ellis wants her successor to do it their own way.
“I think you go into this job and you know the expectation is so high and the margin for error is so small, but you really have to stay true to the course you want to chart,” Ellis said. “Sometimes there’s going to be highs and lows, but I would say make sure you do it in the way you want to do it because at the end of the day it’s yours to own and feel proud about it.”