The U.S. Women’s National Team has long been atop the women’s game, but the team is always looking to improve, and that fire begins at the top with head coach Jill Ellis.
The three-time World Cup champions currently ride a 14-match unbeaten streak and have only lost two of their previous 41 games across all competitions. Despite the team’s utter dominance and consistency, Ellis and her group expect better, and next month’s Olympic Games is the next step in the USWNT’s progression.
“Yeah that’s a great challenge coming right off of World Cup, even coming into it,” Ellis said. “When I met this team before the World Cup I said ‘where we are today isn’t going to be enough to win tomorrow because the game is evolving so quickly.’ The players have the mindset that we need to continue to push and develop so coming out of the WC it was.
“This is the next major event before our World Cup so it’s important to get players that we think will be around for the 2019 World Cup and get them minutes a big environment. The players that I brought in players that I thought not just physically but also in terms of how they play were players that I could see in the hunt for 2019. Did that leave some good players out? It did, but it’s my responsibility to target what’s beyond right in front of us and continue this program at the top.”
The Olympics won’t solely be about the USWNT’s team success, though, as the squad goes for its fourth straight gold medal, but focus more so on which players rise to the occasion on a grand stage.
While Carli Lloyd’s veteran presence will be relied upon following her tremendous performance at last year’s World Cup, the U.S. continues to evaluate its options up front where they must permanently replace the retired Abby Wambach.
Young players like Crystal Dunn and Mallory Pugh have made instant impressions since coming into the national team picture, particularly Dunn, who has netted 13 goals in 34 appearances with the U.S.
“The new players fit in, and a lot of that is the soccer on the field,” Ellis said. “When you do well on the field you get the instant respect from the older players. They’re good people, and they’re very professional. Overall, the assimilation has been very smooth. We’ve got a very close group and it’s a different group and change is a good thing because it creates different environments. I’m really pleased with where we are as a team in terms of chemistry and cohesion.”
Dunn, 24, has quickly developed into one of the attacking group’s most promising young players, and joins experienced talents Alex Morgan and Christen Press as the U.S. continues its transition from the Wambach Era.
Overall, Dunn recognizes her importance to the team and feels she offers another dimension to an already strong side.
“I’ve been very fortunate to knock in quite a bit of goals, and goals that I really didn’t actually come into this team to create,” Dunn said. “I just feel way more confident with the team this time around. I think I add some speed to the attack and I feel like I’ve been clicking with the other front line and I think that’s most important.”