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USA women’s coach Jill Ellis has proven us all wrong

jill-ellis

During the past few weeks, US soccer fans and media have been highly critical of US Women’s National Team Head Coach Jill Ellis and the tactics she has employed.

This writer was no exception.

My big beef with Ellis’ tactics throughout the Group stage and in the first Knockout round was the tendency to play Carli Lloyd, arguably the single-best central midfielder in the women’s game, in a withdrawn role that prevented link-up play with the attacking players. Additionally, Lloyd playing so deep led to obvious frustrations and several bad giveaways that we normally do not see from a technically sound and tactically adept player.

Other criticisms of Ellis included player selection with Tobin Heath generally preferred to Christen Press or Heather O’Reilly and the inability to get the most out of Alex Morgan in front of goal. But defensively, the United States has been so sound in the tournament that while many don’t like the style of play, the results have been very difficult to argue with.

The United States in the women’s game has become in many ways like Brazil in the men’s game. Results are expected and perfection, combined with entertainment value, is demanded. In hindsight, the criticisms of Ellis were based entirely on the US not meeting an eye test that was placed on the team by the soccer intelligencia in this country, including myself.

So what has Ellis gotten right? First off, the world has caught up with the United States. When the US won its last Women’s World Cup in 1999, 3-4 countries were taking this sport seriously. Now, dozens are — and professional leagues are being funded all over the globe. Ellis realized that the US had been caught in many ways and needed to be more sound at the back and not leak goals rather than play with the type of aggressive all-out attack that has been favored by many former USWNT managers. Thus, while the likes of Germany, Norway, France and others piled on the goals at the Group stage, the US focused on defensive work and, since its first game of the World Cup, has hardly given up a good goal scoring chance, let alone a goal.

SEE MOREUS riding an indomitable defense into the Women’s World Cup Final.

One of the many things that Ellis did correctly was the use of Lloyd. When Lauren Holiday was suspended for the quarterfinal against China, Ellis was forced to use Morgan Brian in a holding midfield role. Brian’s outstanding ability to keep the ball moving and her tactical discipline allowed Lloyd to get forward with more regularity, leading directly to the one US goal in the match that was scored off a header. It was Lloyd’s first free header of the tournament that did not come on a set piece opportunity and she made it count.

With Holiday available for selection in the semi-final versus Germany, Ellis switched to a 4-3-3 formation, which allowed a pivot in the midfield giving Lloyd and Holiday the freedom for one to go forward in spots while Brian played in a holding role. This worked magnificently as the United States, with the exception of a 15 minute period at the start of the second half, dominated the play against Germany.

As the tournament has gone on, the United States’ play has improved. The US now appears to be a strong favorite in the final against either Japan or England. Ellis has taken a lot of criticism during the course of this tournament but her player selections and ability to change tactics to let Lloyd get forward more regularly have helped fuel the United States run. Her success is a reminder to the media and fan critics that sometimes building from the back and making sure the defense is sound rather than focusing on style and aesthetics of the game is what wins you trophies in hyper-competitive atmospheres.

It’s a lesson that many men’s programs throughout the world have learned through the years and now as the women’s game evolves and advances it applies also to the USWNT.

 

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. ribman

    July 1, 2015 at 8:12 pm

    I still think she’s a sh*t coach, you said it “she was forced to adapt” with the 2 suspensions or she would have ridden Abby Wambach to elimination, after the China game it was obvious how we should go forward. He ditching the long ball to Abby tactics was what got us going. Her substitutions are always late- Alex Morgan was not fit and was killing us, she played virtually all game- Amy Rodriguez would have been great sub, her devotion to Tobin Heath is mind boggling. Germany was starting to take hold the game after we had outplayed them all night but Morgan couldn’t finish anything, the penalty debacles was good fortune and helped turn her from fool to master coach- winners write the history. USA deserved the game but she was losing it by her ongoing inability to react to the game in a timely fashion.

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