Perhaps sensing the need for a little damage control, perhaps simply wanting to give fans a general blueprint for the upcoming lull in the WNT’s schedule without major tournaments, US Soccer released a long interview with head coach Jill Ellis.
In it, Ellis discusses her reaction to being knocked out of the Olympics, her immediate goals for the upcoming fall friendlies, having more time to put together a team for the 2019 World Cup, transitioning her roster, and of course Hope Solo.
Here’s her full comment on Solo:
“Over time there’s been off the field distractions for which the Federation has taken action. Each time an action has been taken there’s been made clear an expectation that this would be the last time such a step would be necessary. Sadly, how Hope handled her post-Olympic comments forced us to make a significant decision. It’s not simply a decision made about comments, it was based on the sum total of actions that have unfortunately shone a negative light on our program.”
Ellis backs up US Soccer’s assertion that Solo’s termination was the result of cumulative behavior, for which they certainly have the evidence. But it’s also telling that Ellis said there were multiple “this is the last time” ultimatums from USSF, yet Solo continued to play, and does nothing to dispel the image that the federation only punished Solo as much as they needed to for optics in order to keep her on the roster for important tournaments like the World Cup.
Ellis was specifically asked about goalkeepers now that Solo is out and had this to say: “After the Olympics the plan was always to prepare for 2019 and that means investing in the other goalkeepers and getting them playing time.” For now that probably means Ashlyn Harris and Alyssa Naeher, but will hopefully come to include younger GKs in the pool like Abby Smith and Jane Campbell.
Ellis had more to say on the future of the WNT pool, beginning immediately with September friendlies against Thailand and the Netherlands. Those friendlies will be for the Olympic roster in a sort of consolation not-victory tour, after which evaluation will begin.
“I think my philosophy going into the Olympics was to expose new players to that kind of experience...it’s about investing in players that we think will be on that stage in 2019,” she told US Soccer.
Sources for evaluation won’t just be NWSL, but will include Americans abroad, college players, and those in the WNT youth programs. Ellis was also very up on newer players from the Olympic squad.
“I think all of our debutants, Allie (Long), Mal, Lindsey (Horan) and Crystal (Dunn), did very well.” she said.
The implication that Ellis includes Long in her list of players to carry towards 2019 is interesting; Long is already 29, and would be closing in on 33 by the next World Cup. But she’s only one of many; assuming there are a couple more retirements for 2019, perhaps there could be room for a 32-year-old on a World Cup squad without unfairly cutting out a younger, better player with more potential to last over more than one cycle.
Ellis has spoken before about developing a squad for 2019; this is all consistent with her stated mission to integrate players now so that they’re well and truly ready for the next World Cup. We’ll see to what level she succeeds as the team enters the long dark halftime of the soul between big tournaments.