Who Will Replace Jill Ellis as USWNT Coach? Handicapping the Field

Posted By Chops on August 2, 2019

Jill Ellis announced she was stepped away from the USWNT team this week.

Ellis leaves the program as inarguably its most successful coach. She steered the team to consecutive Women’s World Cup victories. She’s coached the most games (127) and won the second most (102) in USWNT history. Ellis will continue coaching the nationals for their five friendlies on their victory tour, after which she’ll end up as the winningest coach too.

Naturally, speculation has begun on “who will be next?” However, before a coach is hired, a GM for the women’s program must be named. The most obvious candidate would be Ellis herself. She’s certainly earned it. As of today, that doesn’t appear to be a consideration. On her exit conference call Tuesday, Ellis gave no indication she was giving the GM role any thought.

Regardless of who the GM is, most of the coaching candidates will remain the same. It’s difficult to handicap the race without a GM but we’ll give our thoughts as to who should be considered and why.

Remodeling the US program first…

But first!

A major storyline from this year’s World Cup was how 7 of the 8 quarterfinalists were European teams.

European clubs have started investing in the women’s game. Traditional powerhouse clubs from England to Spain and France are fostering programs down to the academy level.

The results have been immediate and profound.

This is a problem for the US.

Europe is home to the best domestic leagues in the world by a large margin. Their academy system, from Ajax to Southhampton, Liverpool to Barcelona, are second to none. This is in part why you see European nations dominate at the World Cup. From a young age, players are receiving the best training possible.

Despite our deep talent pool, the US has failed to catch up with Europe. The pay-to-play club model is a major reason why.

Whoever steps in as the next GM and coach should take a serious look at the game down to the youth level. How can US soccer learn from Europe and adapt / adopt their best practices? Is there a happy medium?

If changes aren’t made, the US women’s program will take a step back and look more like the men’s side. This will be a major storyline for the sport in the next 4-to-8 years if the US slip. In the US, it will be the story.

Initial reports of possible replacements all list some variation of the same names. The general consensus is the most likely candidate will come from the NWSL. There are a few female candidates, but the majority of the names are male.

The US needs to nail this hire. Someone with familiarity of the European academy model — and ideas on how to reshape our youth program — should be a line-in-the-sand requirement. The easiest — and laziest — thing to do would be changing nothing.

With that exposition out of the way, on to who should be the next USWNT coach.

The leading contenders 

Laura Harvey – Utah Royals

I like Harvey, 39, for two reasons: 1) she’s English and has coached at Arsenal (great women’s program) and Birmingham City, and 2) she’s coached the USWNT U-23 squad and reportedly gave Ellis the heebie-jeebies (she viewed her as a threat) a few years ago.

Harvey now coaches the Utah Royals in the NWSL. She’s straddled both the English Academy model and US youth system. Is she too young? Or is she the right age to lead the program into a new era?

Regardless, in a field without any obvious leading candidate, she’s the best option we see.

HPS Handicapping: +250

Paul Riley – North Carolina Courage

Riley, 55, is probably the most bandied about name for the position. He’s been in the USWNT cue before, most recently in 2014.

Riley, a Liverpool native (#ynwa), would have some familiarity with the European academy model. However, he’s far removed, having been in the US since 1982 (first as a collegiate player at Adelphi University, then in various US pro leagues).

It’s really his coaching bonafides in the US that earn him consideration. He’s won back-to-back NWSL Coach of the Year honors.

This seems like the easiest / laziest choice (not that he’d be a bad coach), but he wouldn’t be our pick. Still, where there’s smoke…

HPS Handicapping: +300

Mark Krikorian – FSU

Krikorian, 59, has turned FSU into a power program on par with UNC. He’s been with the Seminoles since 2005. Before that, he coached the U19 USWNT in the Thailand World Cup. 

With two NCAA titles (2014 & 2018), he knows how to win. But is his age, gender, and lack of recent international experience going to be an issue?

HPS Handicapping: +650

Vlatko Andonovski – Seattle Reign FC

Another male! Andonovski, 42, is the right age profile. He’s had success in the NWSL, winning the 2014-15 titles with FC Kansans City. He went to Seattle after KC folded.

While noted for developing young talent, Andonovski has no — as in literally none — international experience. Major demerit.

HPS Handicapping: +900

The longshot candidates

Emma Hayes – Chelsea

Hayes, 42, currently manages the Chelsea women’s team. While not at the US national level, she has coached in the states at the collegiate (Iona) and professional (Chicago Red Stars, ’08-10 version) levels.

She’s helped develop some of the top talents at this year’s World Cup (Hedvig Lindhal, Millie Bright, and Fran Kirby). Interesting choice who the US probably won’t give much consideration to this cycle. 

HPS Handicapping: +1600

Mark Parsons – Portland Thorns

Parsons, 32, has been coaching in the NWSL since 2013. He won a title with the Thorns in 2017.

But…while very respected, he’s too young. Check back in on the next cycle.

HPS Handicapping: +1700

Sarina Wiegman – Netherlands

The current coach of the Netherlands has been getting some ink, but we don’t see it happening. While she has spent time in the US (she played at UNC), she’s got a good gig with the Dutch side. Why pull a Kevin Durant and leave to the slightly better squad? She’s close enough already. She’ll try to see it through with the Dutch.

HPS Handicapping: +2500

Jitka Klimková – USWNT

Jitka, 45, is the USWNT U20 manager. She played for the Czech first division and national team. Lacks the pedigree for the top job though.

HPS Handicapping: +4500

Tony Gustavsson – USWNT

He’s the ponytailed blond man on the sidelines with Jill Ellis. The 45 year-old won’t be the permanent coach, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he served on an interim basis until a successor is named.

If (huge if) he impressed enough and had buy-in from the players, maybe (huge maybe) he’d get the full-time job.

HPS Handicapping: +5000

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Chops

Chops is the executive producer of High Press Soccer. He's an unabashed Liverpool fan who will absolutely let that bias seep into his reporting and analysis.

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