- The USWNT has been revamped under Jill Ellis
- The coach discusses the strength of her squad
- Megan Rapinoe hails USA’s breakout stars
Four years ago, the USWNT was all smiles, hoisting the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ trophy over their heads, gold medals hung around their necks, confetti everywhere. But that was four years ago. This team only looks forward.
“I feel like it’s less of a defense and more of its own sort of triumph,” USA co-captain Megan Rapinoe said. “This group is totally different. It seems like the tournaments are very unique to themselves.”
A lot can happen over the course of four years. In fact, when the USWNT lost in the quarter-finals of the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016 to Sweden, it was enough to change years and years of tactical thinking. Coach Jill Ellis started the process of refiguring how she could better use the talent she had.
The team had played a 4-4-2 formation for years before Ellis had taken over. After the US were eliminated in the Olympics, Ellis and her coaching staff looked into adding depth to the roster and once they had that, they looked at the attributes of the different players and had them play to their strengths.
“I think that’s where we built this team to suit us,” Ellis said. “We’ve got world-class attacking players. It wouldn’t make sense with the depth we have up there to play with two forwards. We have creative midfielders and obviously a rigid back four in terms of solidity.”
The loss to Sweden and the rebuilding process has shown Ellis that her players are battle tested and are mentally strong. They have been able to grow through periods of searching for themselves and proving themselves.
“I knew once I picked this 23 that they would be a very tight group and a very strong group in terms of mentality.” Ellis said. “Because they’ve had to work very hard to be on this roster, and they know the demands of this World Cup in terms of pushing through at the very end.”
Rapinoe is especially proud of what her team has managed to accomplish this tournament. She has enjoyed watching them take advantage of every moment.
“The pressure for us is tremendous, but the way we shoulder that and just keep moving on,” she said. “Seeing Rose [Lavelle] be a breakout star in the World Cup, seeing Lindsey Horan being a breakout star, Alex [Morgan] is doing the same things, our defense is solid.”
Rapinoe also gave credit to her goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, who she said “has faced so much doubt and criticism”.
“I just feel like I’m a mother watching all my little kids be so successful,” Rapinoe said as she got emotional. “But all of those little moments throughout the whole tournament have been the most special.”