With Ben Olsen finally out as D.C. United manager after a decade in charge, the club is searching for a replacement to lead the club on a rebuild. One candidate stands out from the rest: Jill Ellis, the former manager of the US Women’s National Team who won two World Cups during her tenure and grew up outside of Washington D.C.
Ellis would be a groundbreaking hire. As Charles Boehm noted at MLSsoccer.com, only recently have MLS teams started hiring women on their technical staffs, and even in the NWSL, just one of nine coaches is female. Throughout American sports, women have started breaking into the coaching world, but in no male major professional sport has a woman taken the reins of a team. Becky Hammon, an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs, is a possible head coaching candidate in the NBA.
Why Ellis to DCU would work
There is an untapped market of coaching potential here. D.C. hiring Ellis could help push other teams to look more closely at the talent in the women’s sports world. If there’s any woman who could take advantage of this opportunity, it’s Ellis, who led a dominant USWNT with diverse personalities and enormous pressure. She has experience in the spotlight and has proven to be tactically flexible.
D.C., of course, is a much different job. It’s a club team, for one, and Ellis has never managed a professional club team. She spent the last decade in various roles with the USWNT, and before that coached Illinois and UCLA women’s soccer. Club teams require more constant attention and hands-on development. She does have experience with player development, with years as the USWNT U-20 and U-21 coach, in addition to her college experience.
She would take charge of a D.C. team that needs some work. As I wrote back in September, before Olsen was fired, DCU are in a state of transition, with a variety of middling veterans and a few promising young players who saw increased playing time under Olsen towards the end. Unlike the front-running USWNT, which was more talented than most teams they played, Ellis would have to endure some losing and turn the ship around a bit more gradually.
But there is recent precedent in MLS for coaches stepping right in and changing things for the better. Oscar Pareja at Orlando City SC is a good example. Pareja was hired before this season to a team that had always disappointed and gave them a more concrete identity, possessing the ball and building around a crew of talented attackers. He found diamonds in the rough (Daryl Dike, anyone?) and led Orlando to the final of the MLS is Back tournament.
Tab Ramos, another coaching veteran of US Soccer, is pursuing a similar turnaround in Houston, though it will take longer for the less-talented Dynamo. Ellis would face a challenge like Ramos’s. She would have to implement a more consistent style on the field and make the most of the players who will be part of the future. After years managing a dominant national team, that wouldn’t be an easy task.
But she’s a respected coaching talent in US soccer who had great success with the USWNT. D.C. needs a new voice, and Ellis would be a reasonable choice.
She would make national news, breaking a longstanding glass ceiling. There’s no reason why a woman shouldn’t be able to take charge of a men’s team. Others are surely out there, and regardless of whether Ellis is hired at D.C., teams should comb the market. We’re likely to see more women making historic in-roads in coaching.