You might’ve caught a snippet of the USWNT on GMA last Friday, in which case you’re well aware that the team was in NYC for a media day (as well as a friendly against Mexico at Red Bull Arena on Sunday) in advance of their 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup departure. I was able to sit in on the press conference at Twitter in which we heard from head coach Jill Ellis, captains Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, as well as the other twenty selected players who’ll be headed to France for the WWC. (I tried not to fangirl too hard, but whether or not I was successful remains unclear.)
While the upcoming WWC was the main focus of the day, a big topic of conversation was unsurprisingly the issue of gender equity in soccer. Rapinoe said, “I think the big miss that happens in women’s sports is to try and replicate the model that’s been done on the men’s side. I think it’s a different product, and to be honest, it’s quite lazy as well. I think you can take some things, but a thoughtful approach specific to the women’s game and the environment around it needs to be taken in order to bring that game to a higher level. I don’t think you can do exactly what you do on the men’s side and do it on the women’s side.”
When asked about the progress that has been made in the women’s game, she said, “I don’t think there’s really been a huge change at all. I think the incremental change that we’re seeing isn’t enough. I don’t think that’s the model that needs to happen; I’d like to see a major paradigm shift, a major overhaul, and kind of a double-down in realizing that there’s been such a lack of investment for all these years, and such a lack of care and attention. Doubling or tripling or quadrupling the care and attention given to the women’s game would be appropriate. To make incremental change is…it obviously leaves the game wanting more, and it’s not nearly enough at this time. I guess incremental change is better than none at all, but for the resources and the ability I feel like FIFA has to implement that change…I think they’re not doing nearly enough.” She also expressed her frustration with the fact that there are several regional tournaments that are set to overlap with the WWC, saying “Honestly, it’s very disappointing. I think there are two finals on the same day, is that right? And the other tournaments are going on at the same exact time. It’s ridiculous and disappointing.” (Agreed.)
The 2016 Olympics debacle was brought up several times throughout the day, too. Ellis said, “I think it was the first time we’d seen a very established, very veteran, very experienced team take the approach to sit low. Usually you play teams that potentially can’t match up with you, and so certainly they take that approach, but here was a world power in soccer taking that approach. In that game, it made me realize that we have to make sure now (because teams aren’t going to give us the space) that we have players that can create space, that can break lines where there’s no space, the kind of players that can really change the game when a team is so highly organized defensively.”
And that whole “park the bus” mentality she’s referring to re: Sweden’s Olympics performance is likely to be present at the WWC, but hopefully minimally, ’cause IT IS SO BORING WHEN TEAMS HUNKER DOWN LIKE THAT. But also like Ellis said, I think this current roster has been really great about creating chances where there appear to be none, so even if teams do go into lockdown mode, the USWNT will hopefully be able to break through.
In terms of whether or not Ellis is feeling the pressure from the whole zero-margin-for-error thing, it doesn’t seem like it. She said, “I remember my dad when I was twenty-one at my first coaching job saying, ‘Listen, let me give you a few blunt rules of coaching. You’re not a coach unless you’ve been fired.’ Right? Because that’s part of the job. So I went into coaching never worrying about what I was coaching for, other than trying to make sure that I could prepare my team, select the team, train the team, have an amazing staff around me. I give a lot of credit to my staff, empowering them, so I very much feel like this is a unified group. You coach to coach, you don’t coach to satisfy media, satisfy fans. You really try and look at the task at hand and say, ‘That’s what I believe in my opinion, and with my staff, and collectively what we think is going to help us be successful.'”
While Ellis, Rapinoe, Lloyd and Morgan took the stage to address some of the more general questions, we were also able to speak with the rest of the team about the upcoming WWC and everything in between. I asked Tobin Heath about the new business she’s starting with Rapinoe, Christen Press and Meghan Klingenberg, which is set to launch in June. She assured me that she, Rapinoe and Press’ heads are fully in the game for the time being, but that they’re super excited to get things up and going.
Ali Krieger (who I’m VERY stoked to see on the final roster), meanwhile, talked about her engagement to fellow teammate Ashlyn Harris (a relationship that was rumored for a long time, but which only just recently has been made publicly official), saying, “Before I guess I felt like I was hiding something. Not purposefully, and I never want to do that, but I’m a private person and don’t like to put everything out on the internet anyway. I think it’s important for me to go into a tournament with a weight lifted off my shoulders, and to really be a healthy, happy me.” Yes, girl!
She also talked about the possibility of a future in broadcasting. “I really enjoy talking soccer, and I obviously don’t get to talk about it at home. I just love having that conversation, and I’m really interested in both men’s and women’s soccer. I really love the game, I’m passionate about it, and I think we need more women in the broadcasting world because we know our shit. I’d really love to pursue that.”
After the Q+A portion wrapped up, day ended with the unveiling of a special foosball table ft. players made in the likeness of the USWNT, and yes, they got hella competitive playing each other. You can scope photos of that and all the other action below, and obviously mark your calendars to tune into the first WWC game on Tuesday June 11th at 3pm ET: