The IX: Soccer Mondays with Annie M. Peterson, June 14, 2021
San Diego readies to join the NWSL, and Vlatko readies to decide his roster for the Olympics — Must-click woso links — Comments from Jill Ellis about leading an expansion team
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Apologies for the shorter than normal post! I’m in Seattle helping my daughter get settled in for her summer internship. And I’m getting my house ready to sell. Things should get back to normal next week — maybe — as I pour it on for the upcoming Olympics.
The big story of the week was confirmation of the worst kept secret in the NWSL: The Sacramento expansion team is actually going to be a San Diego expansion team.
And Jill Ellis has been tapped to lead it.
Ellis spoke to reporters when the announcement was made, and struck the right tone. She wants to hire women in key positions, including coach.
It appears the team will start play and the University of San Diego. Which is where my son goes to college. So this works great for me in terms of access.
The Summer Series also started. The United States had an interesting 1-0 victory over Portugal to start, before a more decisive 4-0 shutout of Jamaica last night.
The focus here is not the games, or extending that 41-game unbeaten streak. It’s the Olympic roster.
Obviously one of the biggest question marks is Carli Lloyd. I think she’s in. She’s still an asset to the team, even at 38 years, 322 days old.
I believe Midge Purce has shown enough versatility that she’s in, too. Catarina Macario is a wonderful talent, but with a limited roster, the focus for her is best on the 2023 World Cup. I’m all but sure that Adrianna Franch will earn the backup GK spot.
Here’s what Lloyd said last night after scoring 24 seconds into the match. She was commenting on how she feels about her play heading into the Olympics, given they were delayed a year.
“I actually feel better. And I don’t think that if it was played in 2020, a number of things wouldn’t have happened. My family wouldn’t have been a part of it. I wouldn’t have had knee surgery. I changed up my strength program and started working with a guy back home. I have a new trainer that I do ball work with. So I feel like I went from thinking that I’m continuing to get better to another whole level. I’ve never been this fit, fast, explosive. Just my overall game, I just feel like I’ve been doing so much studying of different forwards, positioning runs, checking into the pocket, getting in behind the back line, different finishing, being better with my first touch and better back to goal, holding the ball up. I mean there’s so many things that I’ve worked on and tried to finesse in the last year or so, so I’m actually in a better position than I was back in 2020.”
On last thing I need to say: Becky Sauerbrunn is a national treasure. Here’s her response to an Alex Azzi question.
Needless to say, I spent most of the weekend blocking trolls. I recommend blocking and muting. Very cathartic.
(Reminder: First, the underlined words are the links. Second. CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. ESPECIALLY NOW, as newsrooms are forced to make difficult choices. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers and webmasters. Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me! email@example.com.
Jonathan Tannenwald from the Philadelphia Inquirer also wrote about Lloyd.
The Today Show looks at the USWNT documentary set for release later this month on HBO.
Alex Azzi ponders which players will make the 18 for NBC Sports.
ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle on Heath and Ertz, and Andonovski saying they’ll be ready.
My Brazilian AP colleague Mauricio Savarese on the Brazilian national team’s protest of harassment in the midst of the investigation of the federation.
My AP story on Jill Ellis leading the San Diego expansion team.
Clare Brennan for Yahoo on the questions facing the USWNT in the Summer Series.
ICYMI: Heather O’Reilly’s “dagger” comment toward Alexi Lalas.
Paul Tenorio for The Athletic on vaxxing US Soccer’s players.
The Hill wrote about the GOALS bill, Give Our Athletes Level Salaries.
Tom Timmerman from the St. Louis Dispatch looks at the national team the possibility of a World Cup-Oly double.
KC NWSL is talking to some focus groups about its name, from the Kansas City Star.
Sandra Herrera’s NWSL Power Rankings for CBS Sports.
Annie Costabile takes a look at what the NWSL expansion means for the Red Stars.
Haley Kopmeyer looked at the biggest upsets of the NWSL so far this season for Yahoo Sports.
Five at The IX: Jill Ellis
Jill Ellis spoke to the media when the San Diego Expansion team was announced. Here’s what she said!
Question: Why this opportunity? And specifically the president role? Why a president role and what you think how you see that shaping up in terms of effecting change on the field and off how that dynamic might look?
Ellis: On a personal level, it was it was an opportunity to do something different and grow and do something that still connected to the game, my passion is there. But it was something different. Thirty years on the sideline, this opportunity presented itself and I thought, what a great way to continue to champion women, provide opportunities for women, but also stay connected to the game I love. Talked it through with my family and it just seemed like a different lens through which I’m going to look at this game. But I still think the common things are there, right? In terms of building a team, building a culture, hiring amazing people and putting a fantastic product on the field. So it was just the right fit, the right time.
I left UCLA because I was kind of looking for a new adventure. And similar to that, I’m kind of looking for a new adventure in what I’m doing here. In terms of my focus is obviously on San Diego. You know, Sacramento is a great city. I don’t know all the ins and outs of what’s transpired. But today, I’m focused on making a home in a city that I’ve had a lot of ties to in my recruiting days, just historically. Way back in the day, I think I did some some commentary, but, it’s an amazing opportunity for me. And I was just really excited about what I could what I could potentially achieve here, not just on the pitch, but just more culturally in terms of bringing soccer professional soccer back to San Diego for the women’s side.
Question: We’ve seen expansion teams come into the league, go for big trades or try to to build more slowly. What is kind of what kind of research have you put into what’s worked, what hasn’t in the past and where you’re thinking for 2022?
Ellis: As we’ve tried to kind of go through this process, obviously just having a technical background, aside from the business side building the team, that has been something that’s been in the forefront of my mind. And I think that starts by by hiring amazing people around me. I’m going to hire a GM, a coach that’s going to share the vision and kind of create this vision. But in terms of strategy, we’ve talked to a lot of different people. I’ve talked to ownership at Louisville, obviously Angel City, talked to clubs that have been established, these legacy clubs. I’ve really kind of made a point to to kind of gather as much information and process it and then kind of build out the strategy.
But listen, what we want to do is we want to be fiercely competitive right from the beginning, to put a product on the field that’s going to compete, to have players that are hungry to win championships right off the bat. I don’t want to ease into this. I think we’re going to have resources and assets that are going to allow us to be competitive. In terms of strategy, it’s going to be a combination, right? We go through an expansion draft. So it’s targeting that. It’s first understanding the mechanics of how that’s going to look. We’re just waiting for the league to give us the nuts and bolts of that process, because obviously with two teams coming in, it looks a bit different than one expansion team. And then obviously talking to college coaches and learning about the the draft opportunities of young players that are coming through the college system and that will enter the draft. And then tapping into my international ties in terms of the four internationals that we can bring. So I’m really excited. It’s not just the coffee. I’m just really excited about that component of it, because it’s building that team. But the reality is I’m not going to be the coach, so it’s making sure that this vision falls within the scope of how our coach also wants to look, and how do I go about that — but not announcing the coach yet, not securing the coach yet. It’s basically by having conversations with different people in the process of interviewing to see what’s important to them and what their vision is for the game.
Question: How much do you miss coaching? And what was it that was so compelling about this new role? And then I’m also curious about the stadium situation where things stand now and what plans you guys might have in the future on that front?
Ellis: Obviously, the past 18 months, two years, for everybody has been very different. Through that process of talking to different businesses and corporations. I’m not on a board. My interest in the business side has certainly grown and is very intriguing. But I think what’s really touched me the most is, I was involved with this, and I still am, in this mentoring program, which we started within U.S. Soccer. And as I’ve gone through that process and I’ve had a mentee now, Emma Thompson, for the good part of nine months. As I went through that, I just realized how special that it is to connect and help people on their journey, to be a resource, to open up opportunities for them. So I’ve just seen through the mentoring program that — I’ve heard all along that you need to get more women in the boardroom, more women in executive positions, you need to have more women in the decision-making process.
And when you’re a coach, you have a certain sphere of influence in terms of what you do on the pitch and with the players and the immediate staff. But this is kind of a position that allows me to hire people that also can make decisions. We’re going to hire amazing people, but also to create opportunities for women to be in positions that potentially, not traditionally we see a lot. We’ve seen change. We’ve seen now GMs and female CEOs, et cetera, in the sports industry. But this was something that I just felt very passionate about. The reward of kind of creating a pathway for someone else or helping someone on their journey was very fulfilling and very compelling for me to kind of make this transition into this position.
I miss coaching. I mean, yeah. Two years, I think it’s almost been. I’ve stayed stay really connected with players and with my friends still in coaching. I had a conversation actually, I had dinner one time recently with Tony La Russa, a mutual friend introduced us. And he was sort of talking to me about coming from the executive level back. Now, obviously, he’s back with the Chicago team. And I sort of said, well, why did you come back? Because he was in the executive level and he’s like, I just couldn’t not make the decisions right down there. It was hard for him. I kind of feel, and I don’t know how it’s going to feel, but I feel so empowered by having someone to go through this process, in this journey, that I think I’m going to be comfortable with that. I’ll be a resource if needed. But ultimately, this is going to be the coach’s decision to build this team out.
So, yeah, I don’t know if I’ll miss it. I think staying connected to it — and in a way, you’re doing the same thing. You’re you’re bringing in amazing people and trying to create an environment and a culture where they can be successful. So I think those components are still there for me. And if you ask me what I loved about coaching, I would say kind of the people, and the processes of doing that exact thing. So I think this is certainly a transfer there in terms of what I’m going to be doing.
Ultimately, I think what we want to do is create a home for our fans. So in the interim and you probably saw it in the release, we will be at Torero Stadium for a short period of time. But we want to really create a home, our ownership is very interested in building. But also, I’m acutely aware now with the amazing facility that San Diego State is building, which is phenomenal. There’s opportunities. And I think what we’re in the process of doing is going through and seeing what’s going to be the best options in terms of us. (I’m) committed to building a world class training facility. And I started there because ultimately for coach and a player, that’s their home. I mean, certainly the stadium is going to be a component of that. But where are they going to be day in and day out? And we want to have a fantastic home. So we’re looking, not to share too much, but we’re looking very seriously at sites that we can build. But I think part of this process was, in meeting with Ron, it’s what is the commitment? Because what I know as a coach, the game, the result is going to play out, but you want to give yourself the best opportunity to succeed. And you do that by being able to create an environment where you can have amazing resources and support from from ownership or from leadership. So I feel having gone through that process, I was very confident that we’re going to have amazing support to be able to do amazing things. And San Diego is just a phenomenal, phenomenal site to be in in terms of fan base and and history.
Question: Do you have a timeline for hiring a coach, and would you prefer it to be a woman?
Ellis: First answer to that, yes, I think that was part of the excitement of this is to, like I said, to try and create opportunities, really well thought through opportunities for women. The timeline in terms of just the hiring of a coach, we will have a coach in place by summer. I would say July-ish is where my target is because that, I think, gives them enough of a runway to kind of start to prepare and look at potential assets and trades and and learn the mechanics of the NWSL. It’s a very unique league in terms of a lot of the rules that it has. And so I think that gives them enough time.
Yes, I’m committed to hiring a female. Early on in this journey, I said ‘I’m going to I want to hire a female.’ and someone said ‘There’s not too many good ones out there.’ And I’m like, Yeah there are. We can. There’s certainly enough. It’s not even that I have to look that hard.
So I think there’s some amazing coaches out there. This was an important part of my conversations with Ron because I feel like we could have a female-driven organization. That’s not to say we’re not going to have guys, of course we’re going to have guys. But it was just important to kind of create these opportunities for women in senior positions, that I think is important. So hiring a general manager, hiring a coach, those are the priorities. In terms of the branding and our name, we’re going through a process. We’ve got a phenomenal contract going on right there. And I think we’ll have that answer, I would say, in the next two to three weeks in terms of that next rollout.