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Ellis looking to put pieces together in first matches as new USWNT coach

Morgan Brian, Jill Ellis

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While much of the soccer world has their attention turned toward Brazil where the U.S. Men’s National Team will soon begin their World Cup campaign, the U.S. Women’s National Team are preparing for a World Cup, too.

Just days from the one-year mark counting down to the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada, Jill Ellis flew into her first USWNT camp as permanent head coach of the team – and she is ready to make her mark.

When the USWNT faces France for two friendlies this week, it will be Ellis’ first time at the helm of the squad knowing that a World Cup is in her hands. With five months until World Cup qualifiers and now less than a year until the main event, she is getting down to business quickly.

“I definitely have a plan,” Ellis told SBI from Tampa, Fla. on Monday. “I actually said to the team tonight that even though I’m very familiar with a lot of them and getting more familiar with some of them, I still think there’s things that we want to assess and look at to put the pieces together.

“Even though I am very familiar with them, I will have a process and an evaluation period to make some decisions.”

But the time for serious experimentation has largely passed, having mostly been used up by Ellis’ predecessor Tom Sermanni, who was abruptly fired in April after 16 months on the job. That may not be a problem for Ellis, who knows the team well after serving as the USWNT’s assistant coach in 2012 and as interim coach twice before – but she will need to assert her vision quickly and move on from whatever issues marred Sermanni’s tenure.

“I can’t really say what was missing or what wasn’t missing – and I can’t even determine if something was missing,” Ellis said when asked about what she needs to address in light of the USWNT shake-up. “But what I can say is, whenever you come into a team, you certainly as a coach want to establish the things you think are important, whether it’s in regards to the environment or the technical area. You want to start to establish and layer in the things you believe are important that are going to help this team be successful.”

And so the process has begun of imposing her vision on the team. As much as that is about the team culture and the style of play, it’s also about personnel – and in some areas, Ellis is hoping to move swiftly.

The defensive line appeared to be something of a riddle to Sermanni as he fielded a new back four in most games, as if trying to crack a code. Shortly before his dismissal, he told SBI it was the least settled position in his player pool. But Ellis said she wants to lock that group down first.

“I think the most important relationship to build will be our back four and our goalkeeper,” Ellis said. “So, I think fairly soon we’ll be starting to firm up the players that we’re looking at for those roles.”

Ellis is giving other positions a little more time to try some new ideas out.

One of those ideas is moving Kelley O’Hara all the way up the field to forward for this roster – although it isn’t exactly a new idea. O’Hara had been a forward in her youth career, but by 2010 was a midfielder for the USWNT and during the 2012 Olympics, played every minute in London as a newly converted left back.

But it was at forward that O’Hara made an impression on Ellis, winning the MAC Hermann Trophy while at Stanford when Ellis coached UCLA, Ellis said.

“I’ve seen Kelley as a front player,” Ellis said of naming O’Hara to the USWNT roster as a forward for the first time since early 2010. “For me, she has an attacking mentality and, if we’re looking at playing with three forwards, a flank player has to be confident to go 1v1 and cross the ball and do those types of things. I’d like to see Kelley in that role and assess her in that role.

“She was put into the back because there was not any depth back there and now I think we do have more depth, so we can look at her in a position higher up the field.”

If Ellis does try a new iteration of the 4-3-3 against France, it should offer plenty of insight. France, ranked No. 4 in FIFA’s world rankings, is a team stacked with talent and will likely be one of the toughest opponents Ellis has faced leading the USWNT.

Ellis’ record with the USWNT from her interim stints is 6-0-3, including draws twice to No. 2-ranked Germany in 2012 friendlies during a post-Olympic victory tour. But with a different roster in a different stage of the World Cup cycle – and Ellis in a new role, too – a strong opponent like France should help in making some decisions.

“Certainly the score line is something you’re always aware of, but I am more interested in looking at how we’re playing because we know our end point: We want to do well in the World Cup,” Ellis said. “If we play as well as we’re capable of playing, then I think the score line will be in our favor. But I also think France gives us a very good test and very good assessment of where we are.”

“We are a team that’s going to find some answers from the next few months together.”

The USWNT hosts France on Saturday in Tampa, Fla. and then again next Thursday in East Hartford, Conn. Both matches will be streamed on U.S. Soccer’s website.


  1. I think Kelley is more of an attacking mid or LM kind of player..i don’t think she can play as forward anymore and kinda losing it in LB position. Defending is not her forte. she’s more of an offensive player. i think left mid position suits her most. she’s good at crossing and assisting goals.

  2. As a KO fan I don’t really care where she plays on the field as long as she is out there. At LB I guess the depth is Cox and Kling and if she plans on playing Mewis there. I am not saying those three are bad at that position, from what I have seen I just think Kelley is better. But whatever like I said I don’t care where she plays

  3. I do like that Ellis says she will practice what is important. If the recent “inside the lines” video is any indication, then good stuff bc the video showed a ball on the ground w traffic, tight spaces drill. JJ, Morgan, Brian, Hagen and Krieger looked very good, very comfortable in this drill.

  4. Caitlyn, thanks for the article.
    Ellis is talking about 4-3-3 formation against France. A strong forward line is hardly the only consideration for such a formation. Indeed, the midfield in 4-3-3 needs to be very technical, fast moving to beat the 4 midfielders in a 4-4-2. USA struggled to create much attack using a 4-3-3 against Canada most recently. France’s main strength lies in the midfield. I don’t see the elite forwards of USA getting the ball very often bc we will be engulfed by France in the midfield. We will have a defensive battle and the fullbacks won’t be able to get forward to help with numbers. To make 4-3-3 formation possibly work, USA would need central midfielders like JJ and Brian to feature, but this seems unlikely. if we get whupped, hopefully US learns from its mistakes.

  5. Well at least Ellis recognizes the importance of getting a solid back line. If she can get that part organized I think the talented players she has at her disposal will figure it out and get us the goals we need.

  6. I have to say, I am tired of this team the way things are and I don’t think Ellis was a good choice (I won’t go into my critique of her time with the U20s, as I have several times here before). I think we will see other nations surpass us fairly soon (though probably only European ones for now) – I am very excited about the French team, especially. I am ready to embrace more parity.

  7. O’Hara has done nothing at the club level at forward. Also her biggest value to the team is she is a 90 minute player so bringing her off the bench at forward completely undermines that. Of course the biggest problem is the apparent need to man their new three front with players not currently in the forward pool. If the 4-3-3 gets fewer of ur elite forwards into the game then what is the point of playing it?

      • I agree SBFC is not they best place to really see KO as a forward because she spends more time defending than attacking

    • Is there any chance O’Hara could do the job at left MF? I am not sure if she has ever played MF. Technical skill is not her forte, but she sure as heck could play the length of the pitch from that spot, and maybe be dangerous cutting inside with the ball.

      My impression of her as a F, even when she won the Hermann Trophy at Stanford, was that she was doing it with athleticism and work-rate — that, and wanting it more than 99% of the rest of the players. To be crude about it, she should be where she can play both ways and run opponents into the ground.

      Our shallowest position is wide MF, with Pinoe the only high-grade option on the left. Of ourse, the formation might make this moot. But I totally agree that O’Hara is a 90-minute warrior out there and I want her starting somewhere, raising hell all over the field.

      • Did you read the article? it says she was a midfielder from 2010 until she was moved in 2012.

        Had my doubts about O’hara as a forward but the way Ellis describes it does make sense to me if that’s how she’ll be played. For me she belongs somewhere on the field and was a little frustrated Sermanni hadnt given her a shot to earn the LB spot back

      • Sorry, missed that “detail.” My obliviousness aside, I still like the idea of trying her (again) at left MF. Of the three roles — F, outside MF, LB — I think F uses her to the least advantage.

  8. I like that fact that Ellis is saying that it’s not enough to just do business the Pre-Sermanni way. It sounds like she may be willing to approach things in a way that is willing to still bleed in new blood, mixing it with the most effective of the veteran players.

    When she called up Boxxy–over players that have been–ugh–playing– I seriously had my doubts. When she didn’t call in some of the newer faces that Sermanni had given looks, I had my doubts.

    Maybe she will surprise some of us. I sure as h@ll hope so.

  9. What is she smoking? USWNT have depth at LB??? And apparently the team does not have depth at forward so… Go figure. I thought it was easy to say that two positions that lack depth and in need of competition is at LB and holding MF. Oopsie. And also just because KO was converted because of need, if she excelled there and happened to become your best LB b4 injury why would you play her elsewhere???

    • “Depth at LB” – lol ! 🙂
      If there is one position USWNT has problem with, it’s LB, nice research Jill. :DDD

  10. I understand O’Hara’s a natural forward, but with her solid play at LB and the fact that this team has no shortage of forward options, I kind of scratch my head at that move.

    • I think Ellis is saying that in a true 4-3-3 the outside forward can’t necessarily be a straight ahead player (Wambach) but need to be able to beat people 1-on-1 and get a cross off. Interesting to see how it breaks down with Leroux, Wambach, and Morgan now healthy.

      Caitlin- What lineup would YOU like to see how trot out assuming everyone is healthy?

    • Yeah DB, it’s not like we don’t have forward options. Then again, can Abby make it to the next world cup healthy? And will Alex Morgan heal?


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