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Women's World Cup

USWNT manager Ellis's record-breaking match against France could also be her last

4:00 PM GMT+4 28/06/2019
Jill Ellis USWNT
The U.S. boss will set a new mark in a game that could also signal the end of her time leading the team

Jill Ellis is about to reach a coaching milestone, but she’s not too bothered about it. 

In Friday’s game against France, Ellis will lead the U.S. women’s national team out for the 125th time, passing April Heinrichs for the most games coached with the USWNT.

But, when asked in her pre-match press conference, Ellis claimed she didn’t even know about the record she was about to hold.

“I’m not aware of that,” Ellis said. “I don’t pay attention to that. It’s one game at a time literally and that’s kind of how I’ve coached my career.”

Ellis won’t reach the mark in any ordinary match, either, but in a World Cup quarterfinal showdown against the host nation in Paris, a game the soccer world has been anticipating for months.

It also could be her last in charge of the USWNT.

The U.S. players have made it clear before and during this World Cup that there are only two possible outcomes for this tournament in their eyes: winning a second straight title or failure.

Should the U.S. lose to France on Friday it would be the first time they have not reached a World Cup semifinal, having done so in every tournament since the inaugural edition in 1991. 

In other words, it would be a failure. 

Though she won the 2015 World Cup with the USWNT, Ellis’s time in charge has still been rocky at times. The year after the team’s title in Canada, they experienced an unprecedented failure at the 2016 Olympics when they fell to Sweden in the quarterfinals.

That defeat was followed by a period of roster and formation experimentation that led to some ugly results and a reported player revolt that attempted to get Ellis fired. But Ellis held on to her position and eventually things smoothed out, with the U.S. returning to its spot atop the FIFA world rankings. 

Even with the U.S. back to mostly winning ways, Ellis has been criticized for her experimentation and lineup choices. But one area where she appears to have clearly succeeded is in team mentality and locker-room cohesion.

“She’s pushed this team a lot and she has really high expectations for us,” Sam Mewis said. “That’s an exciting thing for her and for the team.”

In response to Megan Rapinoe's recent spat with Donald Trump, Ellis focused on her team's unity, saying, "We all support Megan, she knows that, we know we have each other’s backs in there."

Even if the U.S. wins the World Cup next weekend, the tournament in France could still mark the end of Ellis’s time in charge of the team. Most international coaches don’t stick around much longer than two World Cup cycles, and Ellis has been linked with a front office role with U.S. Soccer.

Ali Krieger, who was controversially dropped for two years before a late recall just three months before the World Cup, has said that while Ellis’s time in charge has been a “rollercoaster” for her personally, the 52-year-old has brought a lot to the USWNT.

“It’s been really enjoyable to have the challenge of playing under a coach that’s so demanding and knows exactly what she wants in us and as a team,” Krieger said. 

The only thing Ellis wants now is to have her record-setting match end with a win. The coach has enjoyed her time in charge of the USWNT and clearly isn’t ready to be done just yet – even if records are the last thing on her mind.

“It's a tremendous honor to coach this group of players and to have this responsibility,” Ellis said.

“I have a tremendous staff around me. It's a really good family vibe in terms of our environment. You obviously want to keep winning but in terms of numbers I don’t really pay attention to that.”