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Jill Ellis Coaching Against the Country that Wouldn’t Let Her Play (USA/UK)

Jill Ellis wanted to play. Of course she wanted to play. Her father coached soccer. Her brother played soccer. The entire family would gather around the television and watch soccer — she was an “all in” for Manchester United, she said.

She couldn’t play though. Not organized soccer. This was the 1960s and she was a little girl on the South Coast of England. Females were essentially banned from playing in England (technically, they weren’t allowed to play on men’s federation grounds until 1971, but that was enough to snuff the game out).

“I had zero opportunity to play football over the years,” Ellis said.

All she had was “playing with the boys in the schoolyard, with my brother in the backyard,” she said. All she had was wondering what could have been.

On Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET Jill Ellis, now the head coach of the United States women’s soccer team, will match up in the World Cup semifinal against her native England, the country that robbed her youth of the sport to which she’s dedicated her life.

Yes, that was a long time ago. No, the people involved aren’t the same. Yes, England has come a long, long way — its team is now a legitimate global power.

But still … the coincidence and significance of the match-up, played against her personal history, can’t be lost on anyone.

Well, on Sunday at least, Ellis chose not to make this about her, her past or into any kind of an old revenge game — with Ellis at the helm of a juggernaut. Maybe human nature wins out in public, but at this point, it was just about preparing her team.

The U.S. team.

“She’s 100 percent American now,” forward Alex Morgan said.


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