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Six Questions with USWNT coach Jill Ellis

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The U.S. Women's National Team coach will be in Bellevue on Friday night as featured speaker for the Washington Youth Soccer 50th Anniversary Gala. Here's a preview.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Jill Ellis will deliver the keynote speech at the Washington Youth Soccer 50th Anniversary Gala. You may not know much about Ellis, but she has learned a lot about soccer in this state, beginning back in 1984. Her club, Virginia’s Braddock Road Blue Bells, met Washington’s Union Bay Flyers, starring Michelle Akers, in the U19 national championship game.

What do you remember about that particular game?

It was during my senior year in high school, and that ‘s when I saw Michelle for the first time. They announced the lineups and they said she was a McDonalds All-American, and I thought that was impressive. We happened to win that day, and it was quite a feather because in college William & Mary (Ellis’s school) played (Akers’s Central Florida) quite frequently and we got our tails kicked.

If we asked one of your college teammates, what would be their scout on Jill Ellis the player?

Gosh, I think my college teammates would say I was competitive, pretty technical, and I actually could get a head of steam up so I was pretty quick; I played up front. I loved to compete. I was pretty shy off the field and especially my freshman year I didn’t’ speak whole lot. They would probably say I was good teammate and had their backs.

What if we asked one of one of the first players you coached, how would they describe you?

In the early years they would have described me as demanding but caring, competitive, a stickler for details and a disciplinarian. Ultimately they knew I cared about them as people first. It was about soccer but they certainly knew that I expected highly of them off the field as well. I respected them as people, not just athletes.

You’ve lived in several areas around the country, and have come to Seattle and the state many times as coach for UCLA, and the national team. What’s the vibe around the game that you sense here, and how does it compare to other places?

I love the state of Washington and I have spent quite a bit of time in Seattle. Obviously when you watch games on television you see that the people love their sports and they’re so passionate about their teams. I’ve known (UW coach) Lesle Gallimore for years and she’s a big Mariners fan. It’s kind of cool because it’s a state that loves its sports. For soccer, you see that vibe and energy from the Sounders crowds. It’s crazy to see that fan base. When you grow up in England and settle on the (U.S.) East Coast at first you don’t realize there’s this whole other side to this country. Once I was in California and on the West Coast I had a greater appreciation for just how impactful Washington, the state, has been in our soccer development and growth in the game.

Washington is obviously proud of its soccer community. What or whom comes to mind when you think of soccer in this state?

The players coming out of here are coming from a highly developed soccer state. They certainly have a pretty good acumen for the game; they’ve been exposed to good coaching at the youth levels. There’s a high degree of technical proficiency. It’s such a great place to live, and people want to live there and there’s a commitment to developing. A lot of people I’ve known in the game are from Washington. Sandy Hunt was a pioneer. Bobby Howe took me through my A license. I’ve been exposed to a lot of people coming out of this state. It’s a hotbed, it’s one of the most developed areas. California and Washington are the top developers on the West Coast and have been highly competitive since I was playing up to now. It’s a state that ‘s proven its development works.

What are some of the subjects you hope to touch upon when you come to town Friday night?

It certainly paying a tribute to the 50 years, there’s tribute section woven into it. Although it’s honoring 50 years it’s also very much about looking forward to the next steps and what will keep us at the forefront. If we’re going to get better it involves a plan, it involves a struggle, it involves hard work and it involves collaboration. It’s an opportunity to stand in front of people who can influence our youth. While I want to honor their accomplishments to date, I also want to partner with them in terms of how to continue to grow this game and develop players that can one day play for our national team.

Frank MacDonald is a Seattle soccer journalist and historian. This story first appeared on his website and has been republished here with his permission.