Give USWNT coach Jill Ellis credit for these six bold moves that shut down her critics2020/12/09 20:00
Critics of USWNT coach Jill Ellis can still talk, but the only response she needs is her two World Cup titles.
The final whistle blew, and the players hugged and cried on the field, and then they walked past a series of dignitaries to accept their champions’ medals. This was followed by a trophy lift, with copious amounts of confetti flying around. A few days later there was a parade through the streets of New York City, and then lots of lovely things said about the United States women’s national team.
None of this resulted in Jill Ellis being acclaimed, even accepted, as USWNT coach. More often, she was mocked.
So she did it again. Only better.
What could any of her critics say after the Americans rampaged through the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup with no defeats, more goals than anyone, ever, and not a single moment in seven games when they were on the wrong side of the score? Not a thing. Except, now, goodbye.
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Ellis will coach a few “Victory Tour” games with the USWNT and then depart. She knew it was time, even though it won’t necessarily be easy to find another job this lucrative and another position this exalted.
“This is not a job that someone sits in for 10 years,” she told reporters Tuesday in a media conference call. “Change is good.”
She acknowledged coaching the U.S. women “is one of the most challenging jobs in terms of expectations,” which helps explain why her tenure was not truly appreciated by her critics until she left them with no choice. Ellis won 87 percent of the games she coached and still ranks only fourth in U.S. Soccer history.
Her tactical choices commonly were doubted during her tenure as coach, even right up through her final major event.
There were several decisions Ellis made, though, that were essential to securing two World Cup titles and yet were disparaged by amateur and professional critics of her work.
Morgan Brian to midfield, June 2015: Through four games at the World Cup, the American offense was stagnant, and the defense appeared vulnerable. Ellis deployed the squad in a 4-4-2 formation with midfielders Lauren Holiday and Carli Lloyd sharing the defensive duties and attacking opportunities. It wasn’t working.
In the round of 16 against Colombia, though, Holiday picked up a caution just 17 minutes into the game, leading to a mandatory suspension. Ellis needed to play someone else next to Lloyd; she chose Brian, still just 22, and assigned her to function as a defensive midfielder — commonly called a No. 6. The 4-4-2 became, more often, a 4-5-1.
Brian carried off those duties flawlessly, remaining in that position even after Holiday returned. Brian’s effectiveness freed Lloyd to attack and deliver five goals in the final three games.
Adopting the 4-3-3 formation, Summer 2016: Ellis tinkered with this approach as early as 2014, but it became the preferred strategy after the U.S. was eliminated from the 2016 Olympics.
It was an ideal scheme for the USWNT because it places so much emphasis on the offensive ability of the three forwards, in this case Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath. The U.S. has lost just once in 18 months since the 4-3-3 became the standard.
Julie Ertz to No. 6, August 2017: It takes a bold coach to break up a successful centerback pairing. It’s like Simon deciding he can do just as well, even better, without Garfunkel. In the 4-3-3, however, especially one oriented to be as dynamic as this, it is essential to deploy one midfielder who can responsibly destroy opposing attacks.
Ellis didn’t invent the idea of Ertz as a defensive midfielder. She began playing there for her NWSL club, the Chicago Red Stars, in the 2017 season. Moving her to that position for the U.S., however, meant ending the partnership between Ertz and Becky Sauerbrunn that had been so destructive to opponents in the 2015 World Cup win. But Ellis trusted that Abby Dahlkemper was ready to elevate to a starting position at centerback, and she was right.
Dahlkemper was tremendous in France. And once the U.S. began facing a steady stream of high-level opponents in the knockout rounds of the 2019 tournament, Ertz consistently wrecked the attacks of Spain, France, England and especially the Netherlands. She also slid easily into a five-player back line when the Americans were protecting late leads in each of those games, another Ellis maneuver that paid off big.
Crystal Dunn to left back, April 2018: In 2015, after being the last player cut from the U.S. World Cup team, Dunn returned to her NWSL club in Washington and led the league in goals and earned MVP honors.
In deciding how best to fit her into the U.S. team for 2019, Ellis looked at Dunn as a defender. This decision was not greeted kindly by all in the soccer press.
With Rapinoe playing in the advanced position on the left, however, and with so many midfield options across the field, Ellis trusted that Dunn’s dynamism would make her a force when attacking from the left back position. That combination between Rapinoe and Dunn never quite developed in the World Cup, not to the degree imagined, because as brilliant as Rapinoe was when the game came to a stop — free kicks, corners, penalties — the heat during the tournament sapped some of her spark. Combining with Dunn became difficult.
The decision worked anyway because Dunn became a spectacular left back. Her speed allowed her to keep pace with opposing forwards. Her tackling was aggressive, incisive and effective. Her ability to move the ball forward fueled some of the most important offensive moves.
Rose Lavelle to the starting lineup, August 2018: With Ertz entrenched at No. 6, Ellis had to decide which players to install in the attacking roles, with so many options from which to choose: Lindsey Horan, on her way to becoming 2018 NWSL MVP; Samantha Mewis, starring for title-bound North Carolina; Brian, who played there regularly earlier in the year.
Ellis knew what she had in Lavelle but had to wait. Lavelle had badly damaged her hamstring in 2017 and took months to recover, then took more time to completely find her form. When she started against Brazil last summer, however, she scored the team’s first goal in a 4-1 win and showed the creative qualities that separate her from pretty much every other player in the world.
Ellis bet big on those talents, putting her name on the team sheet above many accomplished Americans. The soccer media mostly favored Horan and campaigned for her to own that position. But Lavelle was brilliant throughout, struggling in just one of the six games in which she played, and she wound up scoring the clinching goal in the final and earning the Bronze Ball as the tournament’s third-best player.
Sam Mewis to lineup fixture, June 2019: Prior to the send-off series of games in the U.S. that would launch the team toward the World Cup, Horan picked up a slight injury. It was an easy decision to move Mewis into that role temporarily. As Mewis excelled, however, taking her out of the lineup became harder to do.
In the World Cup opener against Thailand, Sauerbrunn’s minor injury meant Ertz moving to defense and Ellis being able to start Lavelle, Mewis and Horan at once. Eventually, though, a decision would need to be made. And because Mewis had been outstanding, and because her 5-10 height would be an aide on set pieces against taller opponents, Ellis stuck with Mewis.
That meant Horan, described by some soccer analysts as the world’s best midfielder, watched some of the tournament’s key moments from the bench.
It was the kind of bold coaching decision only the best in the business might make.
Jill Ellis did it, and she prevailed.
And she rendered those who wondered so often about her ability not necessarily speechless, but pointless. They can still talk, but she’ll need to do more no more than gesture toward those two trophies.
Source : https://www.sportingnews.com/us/soccer/news/uswnt-coach-jill-ellis-credit-for-these-six-bold-moves-that-shut-down-her-critics/8ya2mnq3ttvy1lbcr6xb68e7z