The United States women’s national soccer team has a new boss, but she’s a familiar face.
Jill Ellis was named head coach of the squad Friday, five months before qualifying for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada begins. Ellis, 47, has been serving as interim head coach since April 6 following the abrupt dismissal of Tom Sermanni from the top post in the middle of a two-game series against China.
"Jill has been on the bench for more senior and Youth women’s national team matches than perhaps any coach in United States history," United States Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said in a released statement. "She has worked at this for many years and has tremendous knowledge of our player pool and the qualities of multiple generations of players.
"We are confident she is the best person to find the right combinations on the field to make us successful in World Cup qualifying and beyond. She has experienced first-hand the growth of women’s soccer worldwide and is uniquely positioned to lead our team to an even higher level."
Ellis now takes over a locker room with a number of admirers. Following USA’s 3-0 win over China last month, Ellis’ first as interim coach, star forward Sydney Leroux described her as "awesome" and "well respected." Goalkeeper Hope Solo said, "We’re comfortable with Jill, we love Jill, we have a lot of respect for Jill and she didn’t really miss a beat (in her first game in charge last month against China). I’m always honored to be coached by Jill. Every time she has something to say I think we’ll perk up and really listen."
Ellis has a lengthy history with Team USA, most recently serving as development director for the youth women’s national team programs since 2011. She was also an assistant coach on the gold-medal winning 2008 Olympic team and had two stints as the head coach for the U-21 and U-20 women’s national teams.
“It’s unbelievable,” Ellis told FOX Sports 1’s Rob Stone in an exclusive interview set to air Friday on FOX Sports Live. “I got emotional, you know, because it’s something that I have dreamed about. I’ve been a coach from a very young age, growing up in this country. It’s the ultimate job and so I’m thrilled, delighted, humbled – all those emotions.”
Ellis was a leading candidate for the head post the last time it was available following Sundhage’s exit in 2012 and served as interim head coach, but withdrew her name from consideration. The job was subsequently given to Sermanni. Ellis, who was born in Portsmouth, England, also coached the UCLA women’s squad for 12 years and led them to eight Final Four appearances.
Despite being ranked No. 1 in the latest FIFA Women’s World Ranking for the past six years, Team USA faces many questions — some of which led to Sermanni’s sacking — after a disappointing seventh-place performance with a 1-2-1 record at the Algarve Cup. By the time the World Cup rolls around next year, it will have been 16 years since the United States last won the tournament.
Which makes the task at hand simple for Ellis.
“Everything is about winning the World Cup,” Ellis told Stone. “This team, these players, I think this nation is ready for that and that’s what the laser focus has to be and that’s certainly why I was hired to focus on that and hopefully get that done.”
Also on Friday, US Soccer announced that CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifying campaign has moved from Mexico to the United States and will take place this October, although exact sites have not yet been determined. A top-three finish in the tournament will secure a spot in the 2015 World Cup, while a fourth-place finish would put a team in a playoff against a team from South America.