Jill Ellis stubbornly goes forth into the World Cup

U.S. women’s soccer coach Jill Ellis talked with Grant Wahl, at last giving someone a chance to ask questions that have been kicking around in the Twittersphere for a while.

wnt-tacticsOn Twitter, they were often phrased something like “What the &*%$! is that midfield supposed to be?!” Here, it’s “Why don’t you consider using a pure defensive midfielder?”

A few takeaways:

1. Ellis still talks about a core of 13-14 players. That would be an unusual approach. In 1999, Tony DiCicco rested several players in the final group game against North Korea — Michelle Akers and Kate Markgraf sat the whole way, and Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy played one half. Supersub Shannon MacMillan started and scored the team’s first goal; reserve Tisha Venturini started and scored the next two. Sara Whalen played half the group stage, sat out the quarterfinals and semifinals, then was entrusted with a spot on the field throughout the final’s dramatic extra time. This year, we’re talking about more games, aging players in key roles, and artificial turf.

Write it down — at some point in this World Cup, the 15th or 16th player on a given squad will have a major impact.

2. That said, Ellis hints at a center mid rotation. Oh, the whole Carli Lloyd-as-nominal winger thing? That was just because Megan Rapinoe was hurt, Ellis tells Wahl. Lloyd will be playing a good bit of center mid, where she excels, in the World Cup.

But so will the duo occupying those spots the last couple of months, awkwardly converted playmakers Lauren Holiday and Morgan Brian. All at the same time? Probably not. Lloyd and Holiday, with Brian as backup? Some sense in that, sure.

And yet it leads to the question everyone has been dying to ask …

3. Ellis cares not for your defensive midfielder wishes. Here’s the money quote:

A center mid has to be able to playmake and also be able to defend … Lloyd and Holiday spray a ball around better than any midfield I’ve seen. So I value that. If I went for a potentially a pure defender, now am I getting that from them? Probably not.

In a way, it’s reassuring that U.S. soccer has evolved from the days of defensive midfielders being one-dimensional. But let’s emphasize something: “be able to defend.”

DiCicco’s 1999 squad was able to move a powerhouse scorer like Michelle Akers deep into the midfield because if she needed to win the ball, she was going to win the damn ball. That’s not true of Holiday or Brian.

4. Abby Wambach’s role is clear as the Beijing sky. Everyone’s OK with that, right?

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2 Responses to Jill Ellis stubbornly goes forth into the World Cup

  1. Diane says:

    It’s all just a cat and mouse game to keep the opposition guessing .. and I’m OK with that ;)

  2. Juan Peinado says:

    Problem is that Holiday cannot “spray the ball around” . We have players who can–Yael Averbuch is a tremendous and quick-thinking distributor, 10x better than Holiday. Allie Long is quicker thinking, better passer, too. Yet Holiday remains. Why? UCLA connection maybe? The reason has nothing to do with what Holiday can do on the field. Her set pieces have improved of late, but not much else.

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