At the beginning of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, possibly the most uncertain aspect of the U.S. Women’s National Team was their head coach, Jill Ellis. Exiting the group stage, those doubts had not been quelled as the USWNT played to a fraction of their potential. All the questions were pointed at Jill, her choices, and her decisions. But, the final whistle blew on Sunday night with America being crowned World Cup champions, and it is because of Jill Ellis.
A lot of attention is going to be spent on the individual performance of Golden Ball Winner Carli Lloyd, and rightfully so (Can we get her on the $10 Bill already?), but it was her manager, Jill Ellis, who put her into the position to succeed.
If you’ve been following this team for a while, you’ll know that they’ve played with pace, creativity, and a pedal-to-the-metal attack. It doesn’t take a tactical genius to see that the USWNT looked a bit out of sorts in the group stage — they won the group, yes, but did not do it in typical USA fashion. All of this was because Ellis was convinced that tactics and formation be damned. If she got the 11 best players on the field, then the team would succeed, no matter what.
She wasn’t wrong, but she also wasn’t right.
A two woman central midfield of Carli Lloyd and Lauren Holiday was awkward. Playing Christen Press out wide wasn’t the best use of her skills. Abby Wambach starting at forward was a lost cause. And then, two yellow cards to Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday in the Colombia match forced Jill Ellis to mix it up.
Enter Morgan Brian as a deep-lying midfielder, connecting passes and protecting the back line. Enter Tobin Heath as an out-and-out winger. It was at this point that the true identity of the team came out, and began to shine. And it’s because of this that Ellis deserves to be praised.
Don’t get me wrong, I was one of those asking questions of Ellis leading up to, and during, this tournament. But, she absolutely proved the doubters (myself among them) wrong, and proved that the USWNT is, in fact, in good hands.
Her ability to set up the team tactically and in the proper formation — pushing Lloyd higher up the pitch & Brian sitting deeper in the middle — was the difference. It was exactly the change that the Americans needed to make in order to be crowned World Cup Champions.
And that’s exactly what the Americans are: World Cup Champions. Jill Ellis’ decision making under pressure, along with brilliant individual performances is what got the USWNT up on the podium hoisting that championship trophy for a third time in history.