It took fewer than 24 hours. And not even one USWNT game. Already, less than a day into the 2019 Women’s World Cup, former U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo ... well, she had some things to say.
Speaking on the BBC’s Football Daily podcast, a characteristically honest Solo gave extensive insight into U.S. coach Jill Ellis’ management style. That meant detailing where and why she disagrees with Ellis, and opining that her former boss “cracks under pressure quite a bit.”
Solo disagrees ‘a lot’ with Ellis
Solo’s discussion of Ellis began with a bit of a leading question about USWNT lineup preferences. A BBC host prefaced it by suggesting Ellis doesn’t know who her first-choice 11 are – which isn’t exactly true.
But Solo has never needed an invitation to speak her mind. Nor has she ever felt a need to be politically correct with respect to U.S. Soccer, especially after having her contract terminated by the federation in 2016.
“I know who I would trust to handle the pressure of this major tournament, and I know who comes on as a great substitute,” Solo concluded, without naming any U.S. players by name. “So I have my preference.”
“Is that the same as Jill’s, do you think?” the host asked.
“It is not,” Solo responded. “I don’t agree a lot with Jill Ellis, to be quite honest.”
Solo: Ellis ‘not the leader I wish her to be’
Solo went on to explain that she had “quite a good relationship” with Ellis and her staff as the USWNT’s No. 1 progressed into the latter stages of her career.
“I was closer to the coaching staff than I was to my own players,” Solo said. She went on to claim that “the younger players often spend most of their time on social media, and can’t carry on a conversation. Whereas the coaching staff and older players on the team are still talking about politics, and things that are boring to the youth players.”
But that didn’t prevent Solo from questioning Ellis’ methods.
“Jill – she’s not the leader I wish her to be,” Solo said. “She relies heavily on her assistant coaches. She cracks under the pressure quite a bit. But oftentimes it doesn’t matter, because the quality of the players on the U.S. team is superb.”
“They’re winning things in spite of her?” the host asked.
“Well we do,” Solo said. “We have a rich history of winning, a winning tradition, and it doesn’t matter oftentimes who’s coaching us, because we’ll find a way to win ... in spite of who the coach is.
“This last Olympics in 2016, Jill got to the point where she didn’t want to mess with any player’s confidence, and that’s a fine balance. But she would stop showing the goals that would get scored [on us]. We’d want to watch footage ... Alex Morgan and I, because she’s huge in our set piece defense. She was huge in lining up in the zonal defense on set pieces. And she took great pride in that. And we let goals go in in the 2016 Olympics, and Alex and I both went to Jill, and asked to show the team the goals. And Jill didn’t want to break any players. She didn’t want to learn from our mistakes. She didn’t want to see our mistakes, because she wanted to brush them under the carpet, and she wanted really to just stroke the egos of players.”
We pause here to note that the U.S. only conceded three goals at the 2016 Olympics. One came in the quarterfinal defeat to Sweden, on a counterattack. The other two came on direct free kicks in the third group match. One of those two was a Solo howler:
So we’re not exactly sure what she’s talking about here. But go on, Hope, we’ll let you continue ...
“Jill didn’t have that quality, she didn’t bring that sense of leadership to us. You could tell that, perhaps she didn’t show us the goals because perhaps her nerves were getting the best of her. So for me, Jill never had that leadership quality.
“However, there is a great coaching staff. And hopefully, with the combined tactics, and the combined coaching, they’ll figure out a way to win like we always do.”
Solo prefers Phil Neville’s style to Ellis’
After defensive mistakes at the 2011 World Cup, “I was incredibly hard on our defenders,” Solo said later in the interview. “It was very important to hold everybody accountable, including our coach. And it became a struggle, as time went on, and we got closer to the 2015 World Cup, and into the 2016 Olympics, [Ellis’] decision to watch less and less mistakes just grew, it became a part of her tactics. And behind the scenes, we were all frustrated with it. So we’d have our conversations on the side. But ultimately, we would never go back and watch those mistakes.”
And why, in Solo’s opinion, did Ellis not show mistakes on film?
“I think it’s not trusting that we as women footballers are strong enough to handle the mistakes that we have endured,” Solo said. “And that’s why I have been very vocal about liking [England national team manager] Phil Neville, because he’s direct with his players, he’s honest with his players. He was so criticized because he had no experience previously coaching women, and I like that he didn’t have that experience, because he didn’t go into it thinking, ‘OK, these women are emotional,’ or ‘You can’t be as direct with them.’ He could be a hardass on them, and they can handle it. And that is what I like to see in a coach, personally. I like to see somebody who pushes us to be better players, to be better people, to be a better team, and can really lead us into that final.”
Despite all that, Solo did say at the beginning of the program that she felt the U.S. and France were the two best teams at the 2019 World Cup.
Also, at the end of her interview, she was asked whether she’d return to the U.S. national team if the coaching staff and federation wanted her.
“No, no,” she said. “Those days are long gone.”
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