For as much time as the U.S. women's soccer team spends in the spotlight, coach Jill Ellis tries as best she can to stay out of it.
She’s been pretty good at that during her five years at the helm. Ellis, 52, keeps most of her views close to the vest — or perhaps more accurately, close to the ballcaps she often wears during games. We only rarely hear about her politics, social views, or perspective on what it’s like to manage some of international sports’ biggest personalities.
But as Ellis’ time in charge comes to a close, it’s only natural to turn the spotlight up on her. No one in the program has borne more of the brunt of the pressure heaped on the team, yet she has always taken it with a calm smile and a wisecrack or two.
And she delivered the ultimate response this summer to those who’ve questioned her roster selections, lineups and tactics: a second straight World Cup title.
Ellis has three games left in her tenure: a rematch with Portugal on Tuesday in St. Paul, Minn. (8 p.m., ESPN2), and two friendlies against South Korea in October in Charlotte and Chicago.
The games don't matter much at all: they're part of the World Cup victory tour, a chance to bring the team to its fans and thank them for their support. So Ellis has allowed herself to take in the moments and the scenes.
At one point during Thursday’s 4-0 win over Portugal at Lincoln Financial Field, Ellis surveyed the record crowd of 49,504 that stretched to the top of the east stands’ upper deck.
“Just looking up ... then you kind of look, and you look again,” Ellis said afterward. “When you fill out an NFL stadium, you play in stadiums this big, it’s probably like a musician: It’s kind of a rush, and it’s pretty cool.”
Ellis even admitted to being happy.
"For me personally, it's fun to be part of this, celebrating," she said. "Someone asked me out there, 'Why do you seem so happy?' and I'm like, 'Well, we won a World Cup and it's the victory tour.' ... Obviously it's the end, but it's still enjoyable to be around the game and play these teams and be out there."
Ellis thanked the fans “that were not maybe in France,” just as, while in Paris in June, she thanked those who spent thousands of dollars to travel to the World Cup.
“Holy cow, that was awesome tonight, in terms of the atmosphere,” she said. “It’s a privilege, really, to be in that position to be out there and celebrate with the fans.”
Ellis isn’t on any social media, probably for the better given how often she’s been pilloried on Twitter over the years. But she knows what critics think of her, including the meme they’ve created from her writing in a notebook while on the bench during a game at the 2015 World Cup.
"Ultimately, what does a fan want? Entertainment. And I think that's what they want with this group," she said. "The players work hard, they give it everything they have, and there's obviously some fun stuff that happened out there tonight."
Fans want wins, too, especially this team's fan base. And under Ellis, they got some of the biggest in program history. When the final whistle sounded in Lyon on July 7, the critics were officially silenced.
“Before the World Cup even began, my staff and I were talking, and I said, ‘If we could leave this program better than when we found it’ — and obviously it was in a great place when we got it,” Ellis said. “You’re kind of the caretaker of this program when you’re in the head-coaching role. It’s wonderful to see this team being on top.”
Ellis concluded by saying that she's "always going to be a fan of this team."