Portsmouth-born Jill Ellis has the credentials to be a success in the ‘biggest job in women’s football’ but it won’t be easy leading the USA to World Cup glory.
That’s the view of the United States’ ‘voice of soccer’ Ian Darke, as the TV pundit assesses the task facing his former south-coast counterpart at this month’s prestigious Canada tournament – and tells of their mutual Pompey appreciation...
And while the States have got quite a bit going for them, it is certainly no easy task for Jill to lead them to glory – it remains the ultimate test.TV pundit Ian Darke
Jill has the biggest job in the sport but she definitely knows what she is doing.
She is an adopted American now (having relocated to Virginia from Waterlooville at the age of 15 – she is now 48), and has been around the US women’s soccer team for a long time in various capacities.
But the last year or so (Ellis was appointed USA Women’s head coach 18 months ago), she landed the big job and with that comes big responsibility.
I have spoken to her a few times in the last few months and she is really amenable.
We talked about Portsmouth and she was still very interested to know and hear about Pompey!
She remembers her past quite fondly.
She hasn’t lost her Pompey accent either – there is little trace of a Yankee accent.
But there is little doubt that it is a big task she is facing this month.
The USA won their first game 3-1 against Australia on Monday night and understandably expectations are high because they are the favourites.
They have never failed to get beyond the semi-finals in all of the World Cups (six tournaments dating from 1991) that have happened.
So for that part, it is fair to say that they have done quite well on the big stage.
But on the flip side they haven’t actually won it for 16 years (the USA were beaten on penalties in the final by Japan last time out), so the pressure is on.
Jill has got lots of high-profile players to call on, such as star striker Abby Wambach, but USA are a good bunch with a fantastic spirit which sometimes gets them through tough games.
They are also a very fit, committed side.
Nearly all the girls in the States play soccer as they call it.
There is a lot of talent to choose from and a pretty good set-up, so in that regard they are certainly ahead of nations like England.
But in terms of their chances of glory this month, I don’t think I would be in a rush to back them as short-priced favouries, as at the moment they are not really playing that convincingly.
In fact, I saw them lose 2-0 to France – covering the game on ESPN earlier this year.
I would say USA’s chances are no better than France or Germany and maybe Japan.
I also think the women’s game is evolving – it’s not now just about those who are physically strongest, but who are technically strong as well.
Tactics are well-defined and players are technically better – it’s fair to say the rest of the world is catching the USA up.
And while the States have got quite a bit going for them, it is certainly no easy task for Jill to lead them to glory – it remains the ultimate test.