Was U.S. women’s national team coach Jill Ellis massively underrated?

As architect of an unprecedented run of excellence at the helm of the U.S. women’s soccer team, Jill Ellis wasn’t short on accomplishments.

Back-to-back World Cup titles while never losing a game. A staggering overall record of 102-7-18. Multiple “coach of the year” honors.

And yet, as she announced Tuesday that she would be stepping down as U.S. coach at the conclusion of a five-game victory tour this year, it’s clear the numbers don’t tell the whole story with Ellis.

“She is massively underrated,” Craig Harrington, the highly-regarded assistant coach for National Women’s Soccer League’s Chicago Red Stars, told me in a telephone conversation.

“International soccer has so much turnover, that’s just how it is. Coaches come and go — she survived all that and saved the best for last, dominating a World Cup in a way that has never been done before.

“The U.S. job has challenges that other programs don’t. There are a lot of strong characters and different personalities. Working those things together into a team that wants to play for each other isn’t easy. But when history judges her, she did exactly what was asked of her and more.”

Ellis will never get her due credit for an extraordinary run that saw the U.S. team at the forefront of national discussion as a generational influencer of young women and a beacon of sporting excellence. And she seems fine with that.

After all, in 2019, at a time when the women’s game is fighting for greater recognition and financial equality, what is the better storyline? That the main architects for victory are fearless athletes such as Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, or a smart, calm, quiet coach who doesn’t read what is being written about her?

Despite the historical success of the program, the U.S. had never won back-to-back World Cups before — and never won one on European soil. During the early stages of the tournament, Ellis found her tactics and substitution patterns come under heavy scrutiny. Such criticisms seem foolish now, after host nation France was blown away in the quarterfinal, a tight struggle against England was survived in the last four, and the Netherlands was handily dispatched for the gold.

Never mind the talent within the squad. The U.S. women won because not only they were the best team at the World Cup, they were also the hungriest — no easy feat when you are the defending champions.

“When you come to such a high, and have gone to the top, it is hard to repeat it time and time again,” Ellis said, when I asked her on a Tuesday conference call how she managed to keep her players so desperate for success. “It is not just the soccer pieces but making sure you bring in new blood. That’s an important part of building.”

Ellis did rebuild, and not everyone liked it. Carli Lloyd, the best player from the 2015 World Cup win, was restricted to coming off the bench in France this summer and wasn’t a big fan of the change.

Several senior players complained about Ellis’ methods following a quarterfinal defeat to Sweden in the 2016 Rio Olympics after lobbied for her removal. Ellis knows that if it hadn’t been for the 2015 World Cup memory still being somewhat fresh, she would likely have been fired post-Rio. But she stuck it out, and now goes out on top – a rarity in modern day soccer.

Ellis never indulged in excuses as the U.S. coach. She never backed away from the reality that the U.S. is expected to win each and every time it takes to the field, embracing their No. 1 ranking and relishing the associated pressure.

Ellis was neither public-facing nor demonstrative. When she had gripes, either with players or the federation, she handled them internally rather than laying them before the court of public opinion.

Such things don’t get you lauded as the hero, and she’s fine with that, too.

“The advice I would give the next person would be to do it their way,” Ellis added. “Make sure you do it the way you want to do it.”

Source: FOX Sport

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