U.S. women’s soccer team coach Jill Ellis will step down from the position at the end of the program’s post-World Cup victory tour in October.
Ellis’ decision was announced by the U.S. Soccer Federation on Tuesday. Her contract was to expire on Wednesday. The team, which is gathering in Los Angeles this week, will play the Republic of Ireland on Saturday, at the Rose Bowl (10 p.m., ESPN2), and have four more games scheduled. They’ll play Portugal on Aug. 29 in Philadelphia and Sept. 3 in St. Paul, Minn., then play two games in October with opponents and sites to be announced.
Since taking the helm on May 26, 2014, Ellis has won 102 of her 127 games. She led the U.S. team to historic highs in winning the 2015 and 2019 World Cup, and to a historic low in 2016 when the Americans crashed out of the Olympics quarterfinals — the program’s earliest ever exit from a major tournament.
Along the way, Ellis has managed not only some of the U.S. team’s best-ever players, but also some of its biggest egos. She carefully managed Abby Wambach into a substitute role in 2015, and did the same with Carli Lloyd leading into this summer.
“There was a multitude of things that of came into play, first and foremost being my family," said Ellis, who before her time in charge had a range of assisting roles within the program. “This is not a job that someone sits in for 10 years. I think change is good.”
For the last year and a half, Ellis has done her work with the specter hanging over her of U.S. Soccer seeking a general manager to oversee the program. U.S. Soccer said Tuesday that the hiring “is imminent.”
A source with knowledge of the situation told The Inquirer that U.S. Soccer has its candidate chosen, but the deal might not be done yet. Equalizer Soccer reported that it will not be Ellis.
“Jill was always extremely passionate about this team, analytical, tremendously focused and not afraid to make tough decisions while giving her players the freedom to play to their strengths,” U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro said in a statement. “. She helped raise the bar for women’s soccer in the USA and the world, and given the history of this program, the level of success she achieved is even more remarkable.”
U.S. Soccer said Ellis will serve as an “ambassador" for the Federation “for at least the next year,” appearing at "various events and speaking engagements.”
The effect that could have on her taking a coaching job elsewhere is unclear as of now. Asked if she has any plans, Ellis said: “I don’t have something set."
Throughout her tenure, Ellis has faced unrelenting pressure. When she took the job, she was tasked with ending the program’s 16-year World Cup title drought. She succeeded. Then she was tasked with pushing the Americans to become the first reigning World Cup champion to win Olympic gold, and she failed. That compelled Ellis to dramatically overhaul her playbook, seeking to balance an all-out attack from the team’s superstars with the right amount of defense.
The chorus turned into a cacophony when Ellis’ team failed to beat France three straight times, starting with a 3-0 drubbing in 2017. That game set the World Cup hosts-in-waiting on a course to become co-favorites on home turf.
But when the teams met in Paris in the quarterfinals, Ellis’ experience in women’s soccer’s hottest cauldron prevailed. She didn’t make all the right moves this summer, but she made more than any other coach in the field. The U.S. went on to win the World Cup with a perfect 7-0 record — better than in 2015 — and beat five of the world’s top teams in succession: Sweden, Spain, France, England and the Netherlands.
As Ellis memorably said on the eve of the France game: “I think some teams will visit pressure, but I think we live there a lot."
Ellis was invited to return to the subject on Tuesday, and was asked what advice she’d give her successor for dealing with the spotlight.
“It’s probably the really one of the most challenging jobs in terms of expectations — and rightly so with the program’s history,” she said. “I fully accept and understand that if I hadn’t won in 2015, I’m not coaching [in] 2016, because the bar is so high. … You’ve got to own everything about this job."
Ellis leaves having checked every box except two: winning Olympic gold as World Cup champion, and winning Olympic gold as a head coach. She does have a medal, having served as an assistant on Pia Sundhage’s squad that won in 2012.
It will now be up to the new general manager and whomever he or she hires as coach to build toward next year’s Olympics in Tokyo. Ellis was asked why she didn’t want to continue until then, and said she views the World Cup as “the end of the cycle." The Olympics, she said, are “the start of something new for somebody else.”
Asked what advice she’d give the U.S. Soccer brass who will make the hires, Ellis said: “Even if you’re on the right track, if you sit there, you’ll get run over. … We can’t just assume that we [can] continue to do what we do and achieve the same outcome, because everything else is changing rapidly."
She also pushed for continued investment in youth national teams and scouting to sustain a robust player development pipeline.
Who might succeed Ellis? The field could be pretty wide open. Names to watch include three from the NWSL: Vlatko Andonovski of Tacoma, Wash.-based Reign FC; Laura Harvey of the Utah Royals; and Mark Parsons of the Portland Thorns. A foreign candidate to consider is the Netherlands’ Sarina Wiegman, who played college soccer at North Carolina with Mia Hamm and led the Dutch to the 2017 European Championship and this year’s World Cup final.