For the USA And his coach, a discrete start for a month of high stakes

For the USA And his coach, a discrete start for a month of high stakes
The US women's soccer team enters the World Cup as a defending champion, which means it has more to lose than any other.

REIMS, France - On Monday night, just over 24 hours before the United States was scheduled to meet with Thailand in its first World Cup match, US captain Alex Morgan and coach Jill Ellis answered questions at a conference press full. the Auguste-Delaune stadium

After a few benign first minutes, the room became bitter when a reporter took the microphone and wondered how Morgan and the team were approaching the defense of their 2015 World Cup title, "because," as he pointed out, "in some few weeks". They could be the former world champions. "

"O.K.," Morgan said after a comically contemplative blow. "Thanks for that".

Ellis, sitting to the left of Morgan, laughed: "A slightly negative tone on that," he said.

Still, leaving jokes aside, Morgan said.

Being the defending champion inevitably brings a measure of pressure. As well as being the number Team ranked 1 As well as being the biggest and most marketable stars in the world. As well as observe the level of competition in women.

"The process has been long," Ellis said of the four years since his team won the last World Cup. "But I think the players we selected and our preparation have been excellent."

Four years ago, when the United States lifted the World Cup trophy in Vancouver, to start on Tuesday in northeastern France.

The first signal that defended his title could be a complex task, at the beginning of 2016, when the United States finished the round of the quarterfinals in the Olympic Games of the fall. It was the first time he had an important tournament, and the first time the United States failed to win a medal at the Olympic Games. Peak

"I never want to feel like I felt after that tournament," Morgan said last week.

If that loss, for Sweden, symbolizes one of the team's lowest emotional points, it also served as a wake-up call. The 2015 World Cup showed that the United States had vulnerabilities "is not an easy race, "Ellis said the tournament, and the Olympics showed shortly after the teams were becoming experts in exploiting them.

So Americans also have to become wiser. So began a period of experimentation, retouching and auditioning, with growing pains and top-down results and a lot of uncertainty.

For starters, Ellis changed the team's formation from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3, which he said highlighted the depth of the squad's front line.

And it also doubled in tactical preparation: Americans have been neutralizing the first and second and third alternatives, realizing that other teams are becoming more sophisticated after 80 percent focused on tactics. attacks

He called, according to his estimate, about 60 new players in various training camps. (In the end, however, he chose a group that emphasized the experience, with an average age of 29, the United States is the oldest team in this tournament, and 12 of the players are remnants of the 2015 team).

The effectiveness of all these retouchings will be done in the next four weeks. The bets for the team, whose income and future of the professional and national team will be affected by the result, are high. The bets for Ellis are individual, as such, they are also huge. And it's not just lifting the trophy in your mind; Ellis' next contract with the United States. Football, which is renewed every four years in the World Cup and in the Olympic cycle, is probably based on the performance of the team in France.

Ellis said he appreciated the scrutiny.

The team, he said recently, was already ranked No. One in the world when they hired it in 2014. Therefore, the pressure: the general weight of excellence and long-term tradition, not to mention a multi-year fight with the USA UU Soccer that continues on the court.

"You realize there were zero margins of error, and you can just wallow in that or walk away, 'hell, this is part of the job, and this is what I want to do,' and take that as a really exciting challenge." , "She said.

More than 30 years ago, when Ellis was preparing to begin his first job as a coach in North Carolina, his father gave him advice: "You are a coach unless you have been fired."

Probably he did not say: you're a coach until a former star player of yours denigrates you the media.