Less than a month after leading the United States women’s national team to its second consecutive World Cup title, its head coach Jill Ellis is stepping down.
While her departure does not come as a complete surprise as her contract with U.S. Soccer was coming to an end, it does close a remarkable tenure that began in 2014.
She is the only head coach to win two women’s World Cups, and just the second coach in history — male or female — to win back-to-back World Cups. The other is Italy’s Vittorio Pozzo who led Italy’s men’s team to consecutive world titles in 1934 and 1938.
Overall, as of the end of July Ellis with the U.S. coached 127 matches, losing only seven and drawing 18.
While Ellis had the benefit of coaching the most talented national team in the women’s game, that also comes with potential pitfalls if success is not maintained at an ultra-high level. One such pitfall came in 2016 when the U.S. lost to Sweden in the quarter-finals of the Olympics in Brazil.
It was the first time the Americans failed to medal in an Olympic games.
But the years between the team’s win over Japan in Canada to capture the 2015 World Cup and this year’s tournament in France were crucial. Several key players including Abby Wambach retired from international play and Ellis took out her science kit and used tournaments such as the She Believes Cup to play top quality opponents while working in younger players such as Mallory Pugh and Rose Lavelle while also finding the replacement for Hope Solo.
Of note, Ellis also decided to shift Long Island’s Crystal Dunn to defense. Best known for her offensive prowess, Dunn’s presence on the defensive flank created matchup problems for many teams and gave the U.S. another offensive threat from the backline.
The time spent experimenting in between World Cups set the Americans up for success. Heading to France, the U.S. essentially had two starting 11s. That depth could not be matched by even the best teams such as France and England, both of which lost to the Americans. Ultimately, it was talent and depth that separated the U.S. from the 23 other teams at the World Cup.
With her legacy cemented, it will be interesting to see what Ellis does next. It will also be fascinating to see who U.S. Soccer officials choose to fill some big shoes. The player talent is there, but the rest of the world is gaining ground. How the next coach deals with player development and staying a step ahead of the competition will be closely watched.