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Carli Lloyd 'excited' that Jill Ellis will remain U.S. women's coach

One month to the day after the United States women won the World Cup - and one year to the day before the start of the 2016 Olympics - head coach Jill Ellis got a multi-year contract extension from the U.S. Soccer Federation.

Although the news was greeted with mixed emotions in some quarters of the team's fan base, star midfielder and team captain Carli Lloyd gave a strong endorsement.

"I'm really excited," the Delran native told me in an exclusive interview Wednesday evening. "I think that I've got a good relationship with Jill. We respect one another and I'm happy to see she's sticking around... She's done a really good job managing our team and bringing in all the right people."

Ellis' contract had originally been set to expire at the end of the year. Lloyd admitted that she "wasn't sure what was going to happen - if [Ellis] just thought winning the Women's World Cup was great and then she'd move on."

Now that Ellis is officially staying on, the program's focus turns to preparation for next summer's trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The United States is the two-time defending Olympic champion, thanks in no small part to decisive goals from Lloyd in the 2008 and 2012 gold medal games.

Lloyd has made no secret of her desire to be on the 2016 Olympic team, but it's not yet clear how many veterans will make the 18-player squad. And it's a very big deal that Olympic rosters are smaller than the 23-player squads for World Cups.

"There are going to be some tough decisions, and I think it just is going to depend on who is playing well at that time and who's good enough to get selected - whether you're a veteran and kind of in the latter stages of your career, or you're a young player," Lloyd said. "It's just going to come down to performance at the end of the day."

Expect a lot of conversations between now and then about when the right time will be to start bringing more young players in the squad.

In a statement issued by U.S. Soccer, Ellis acknowledged that there is going to be "some turnover" in the coming months, "but that's always part of the natural evolution."

During a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, Ellis said that "we want to honor the players [of] the past" and make short-term preparations for Olympic qualifying in February, but also "use this opportunity to evaluate and assess for the future."

She added that "if a player is good enough and will help us be successful, that's the priority," and "I certainly will be looking toward the future as well as what's directly in front of me."

With Lauren Holiday and Shannon Boxx having announced they'll retire at the end of this year, there may be opportunities for new players to break through. But other veterans, most notably Abby Wambach and Christie Rampone, have not yet said when they'll hang up their cleats.

I asked Lloyd what she has heard about her teammates plans. She told me: "I don't know what Abby [Wambach] is thinking, I don't know what [Christie] Rampone is thinking."

But Lloyd is well aware that a corps of young players in the National Women's Soccer League looks ready to have a shot at the international stage. Leading the way is the Washington Spirit's Crystal Dunn, who scored a hat trick against Lloyd's Houston Dash last weekend.

Dunn was widely regarded as the last player cut from the World Cup squad. You might remember that she was on a list of the best players not to make the team that the Inquirer's Lauren Green and I compiled before the tournament.

"Crystal has done really well for herself," Lloyd said. "I think there's a lot of other talented players in the league who just need to be brought in, get their feet wet, get used to the pace - it is a little different, as expected - and kind of grow."

And those players have to prove that they can match the mental strength of the generations of national team stars who've come before them.

"Consistency and being able to perform each and every day is the most important thing for players to get looked at and to be able to be seen, " Lloyd said. "It's a tough environment mentally... There's a lot of challenges coming into the national team for the first time and trying to stay there."

It's also possible that European leagues will become a more viable option for American players, although perhaps not in the short time frame before the Olympics. France, Germany and England are increasingly becoming destinations for the world's top women's talent. There's already one prominent American abroad, Paris Saint-Germain forward Lindsay Horan.

Ellis said she would prefer that national team players stay home "because we can then have access to them, but we never will overlook a player who is overseas if they can help us."

On the same conference call, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati backed Ellis up on that, saying the coach can "bring in whoever she would like" for the games between now and the Olympics.

"She can bring in World Cup players, or non-World Cup players, or college players that are available, or anyone else," Gulati added. "Even for the games this fall."

Lloyd said she wouldn't be surprised if American players test the waters abroad after the Olympics to have a more diverse playing experience. But she added that right now, the NWSL needs them in order to grow.

"The NWSL is definitely at a level where we need to keep it and build it," Lloyd said. "Every year it requires getting better and on different fronts. Every single player in the league deserves to play in front of a packed house [and] the level of play is good enough for people to come out and enjoy."

That prompted me to ask a question that has been on the minds of many of Lloyd's fans back home: what will it take to get a NWSL team in Philadelphia?

Lloyd didn't hesitate to answer, pointing at the Philadelphia Union as an entity that she feels needs to be involved. It's a view formed largely by the fact that the Dash is run by Houston's Major League Soccer team, the Dynamo.

"I think having a [NWSL] team affiliated with a MLS team is what's going to help," she said. "It has the whole structure, and really the only thing that is needed is to sell tickets and get people out to the games. At the end of the day that's how the owners are going to make money."

For the time being, though, Lloyd and her teammates are still basking in the World Cup afterglow. Over 40,000 tickets have been sold for the Americans' first World Cup victory tour game, against Costa Rica at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field on August 14. Three days later, the teams will meet again before a sellout crowd of 20,000 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

In September, the U.S. will play two games against Australia - first at Ford Field in Detroit, then at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. Both games have already sold over 25,000 tickets each.

The last question I asked Lloyd was one I've wanted to put to her ever since the World Cup ended, but didn't have a chance to until now.

We all saw how she and her teammates were unleashed in the latter stages of the World Cup, and how the team's mentality on and off the field took off like a rocket because of it. So I've been wondering: at what point did Lloyd know the U.S. was going to win the World Cup?

"After we beat China," she answered. "I felt a shift in our team, "I felt a shift in myself, my confidence was booming after that. And from that point on, I knew that if we brought the same energy and excitement and level of play from the china game on, there was not a team in the world that would be able to stop us."

So it proved.