Replacing Ellis - Who Will Take Charge of the U.S. Women's National Team

Reuters

GOAL - Seth Vertelney

Even though the World Cup just ended, the search for the next U.S. women’s national team manager will have to begin as soon as possible following Tuesday’s news that Jill Ellis will step down this fall. 

Ellis will be a tough act to follow, having won back-to-back World Cups, but there is a promising crop of coaching talent both at home and abroad that could step in and ably fill her shoes.

No head coach will be hired until the USWNT general manager position is filled, but U.S. Soccer says there will be a GM in place imminently.

 

From there, the GM will need to immediately get to work, with the Olympics now one year away and the USWNT hungry to atone for their shocking quarter-final exit to Sweden in 2016. 

Here are some of the candidates who could step into the soon-to-be-vacant USWNT role. 

Paul Riley - North Carolina Courage

Riley has been linked with the USWNT for years, with his name cropping up in 2014 before the position ultimately went to Ellis. Riley is the back-to-back NWSL Coach of the Year, presiding over the league’s best team over the past three seasons. The Liverpool native has won two of the last three NWSL titles and finished runner-up the other season. 

Riley also has familiarity with many of the current player pool, having coached a number of USWNT players during his time with the Courage and the Portland Thorns before that. The 55-year-old does prefer a variation of the 4-4-2 formation, which would be a shift from the team’s current 4-3-3 setup.

Mark Parsons - Portland Thorns

Parsons would have an interesting challenge that none of the other USWNT candidates would: He’s actually younger than some of the players he’d be coaching. Despite his youthfulness, the 32-year-old Parsons is actually quite experienced as a high-level coach. He’s been an NWSL manager since midway through the 2013 season, and took over the high-profile Thorns job in 2015. 

Parsons has demonstrated an ability to create a team-first environment with a collection of high-profile individual talent, a skill that would obviously serve him well with the USWNT. He’s turned the Thorns into one of the NWSL’s top teams and won a championship in 2017. 

Laura Harvey - Utah Royals

Harvey, who had previously served as USWNT U-23 coach, appeared set for an expanded role with U.S. Soccer following her departure from the Seattle Reign in 2017, but that appointment eventually fell through. Some said that Ellis was uncomfortable with her apparent successor getting a role so close to her during a period when her job was on shaky ground. Whatever the case, Harvey, now 39, landed on her feet in Utah. 

Harvey is vastly experienced for her relatively young age, having already coached Arsenal and Birmingham City in her native England before spending five seasons at the helm of Seattle. Harvey has long been seen as a future USWNT manager, but her teams have actually underachieved in NWSL in recent seasons. Will that be held against her?

Vlatko Andonovski - Reign FC

Andonovski took over FC Kansas City in 2013 as a virtual unknown, but quickly established himself as one of the country’s managerial up-and-comers by leading FCKC to back-to-back NWSL titles in 2014 and 2015. When the club folded, Andonovski took over for Harvey in Seattle. 

Andonovski is renowned for his ability to develop and incorporate youth talent, a trait that would serve him well with a USWNT side that still heavily relies on several players on the wrong side of 30. The 42-year-old has no experience outside of the U.S. or at the international level so moving up to the USWNT would be a major step up, but Andonovski has proven up to the challenge at every stop he’s made thus far. 

Tony Gustavsson - USWNT

Anyone who’s watched the USWNT sideline in recent years will have noticed a ponytailed blond man shouting instructions at players constantly while actively communicating with Ellis on a regular basis as well. That’s Gustavsson, who’s been something of the second head coach for the U.S. during his time with the team.

Gustavsson has returned to his native Sweden and is reportedly not in the running for the head coaching job, but the 45-year-old would be the ideal selection as a continuity candidate. He’s also nearly secured the position in the past, having been a finalist in 2014 only to see Ellis get the job instead. 

Sarina Wiegman - Netherlands

There arguably has not been a more successful coach on the international level over the last few years than Wiegman, and that includes Ellis. Wiegman led the Netherlands to the 2017 European title and took her side to the 2019 World Cup final, continuing a rapid rise that has seen the Dutch quickly establish themselves as one of the world’s best sides.

Wiegman usually employs the same tactics, but showed her flexibility in the World Cup final against the USWNT and successfully frustrated her opponents for the first hour of the match before a conceded penalty began her side’s unraveling. Wiegman also has familiarity with the American game, having played collegiately at the University of North Carolina. But after all her recent success, would Wiegman leave the Dutch project now?