Jill Ellis: “Ultimately, what it comes down to is these players just have to be hungry, and we have that. We’re going to do this again.” (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
By Michael Lewis
One thing is certain: U.S. women’s national coach Jill Ellis isn’t expected to be sitting on her laurels when it comes time for the Americans to defend their Women’s World Cup championship next year.
“As coaches and players, you don’t have a rearview mirror,” said Ellis, who was a guest on FOX Sports postgame World Cup show Tuesday. “Everything is about what’s in front of you. Out there, we’re defending champions, but for us, it’s about attacking and winning a new world championship. This is a different team, different players, different system. But, ultimately, what it comes down to is these players just have to be hungry, and we have that. We’re going to do this again.”
Of course, the USWNT must qualify for the tournament in France to be in a position to win a fourth world title. The USA will begin qualifying at the 2018 CONCACAF Women’s Championship in Cary, N.C. Oct. 4, Oct. 7 and Oct. 10. If it finishes among the top two sides in its four-team group, the Americans will reach the semifinals in Frisco, Texas Oct. 14. The two semifinal winners will qualify for France, which will host the Women’s World Cup from June 7 to July 7, 2019. The third-place country also will book a spot while the loser will meet a South American side in a playoff.
Germany, the defending men’s champion that captured the 2014 crown in Brazil, did not make enough changes for Russia 2018, Ellis said, and was eliminated in the group stage. Because the USA is bringing in new players with the current squad with a system, Ellis said she expected her team to be ready to go.
“Part of it is in the lead up and preparation,” she said. “Bringing in new players, challenging the players with a new system. We are a group who always want to achieve more, which is the history and the tradition of this program. That’s a part of it. There are things I took away from this World Cup. I think Germany didn’t make use of transition as much was needed in this tournament. Set pieces. There’s always things you can take away, but it’s about being prepared and being mentally ready for the challenge.”
While the U.S. has been a world power for 27 years, many teams have caught up to the Americans.
“There’s global parity now,” she said. “It’s making sure we are playing as many of those teams that have already qualified in the leadup and taking care of what we need to do in our preparation.”
Part of the preparation is playing such highly ranked teams as Brazil, Japan and Australia this summer in the Four Nations Tournament. The Red, White and Blue will meet Japan at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas July 26, Australia at Pratt & Whitney Stadium July 29 and Brazil at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill. Aug. 2.
“These are three very different teams with different systems,” Ellis said. “For us, playing against good competition, you get a lot of questions asked of yourself, and in doing so, you get answers. I think we’re the team to beat.”
The Americans won world championships in 1991, 1999 and 2015. They finished third in 1995, 2003 and 2007.