USWNT coach: Standing during anthem is 'expectation for a national team player'

USWNT coach on Megan Rapinoe's national anthem protest

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- U.S. women's national soccer team head coach Jill Ellis, commenting on Megan Rapinoe's recent protest, said she believes it is an expectation for a national player to stand during the country's anthem. 

Rapinoe kneeled during the national anthem before the Seattle Reign's match earlier this month. She was joining San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's protest against social injustice. When the team went on the road, the Washington Spirits kept the teams inside the locker room until after the national anthem to keep Rapinoe from protesting a second time, but said in a statement that they supported her right to protest.

The women's soccer team returns to play Thursday for the first time since the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro. They will play Thailand in an international friendly in Columbus, Ohio. It is not known whether or not Rapinoe will continue to kneel Thursday.

Ellis, who began coaching the team in 2014, said she understands and respects Rapinoe's willingness to take on social issues.

"I think those conversations should be had. Me personally, in this environment for a national team, I don't disassociate playing for your country. I think that's part of the national symbol. So, in terms of standing for a national anthem, I think that's an expectation for a national team player," Ellis said.

"What I always think about is the team ahead of an individual agenda," she said. "There's a myriad of things our players are concerned about, but when you bring it to a team environment, you bring it to everybody, and maybe even people who don't want to be involved in that discussion. So for me, to utilizing a team platform for an individual agenda, I think I will always put team first, and would want the individuals to put team first."

The U.S. is also playing for the first time since the team released goalkeeper Hope Solo. Solo was released after she called the Swedish team "a bunch of cowards." Sweden stunned the U.S. in the Round of 16 at the Olympics. 

Goalkeepers Alyssa Naeher and Ashlyn Harris will take turns in front of the net for the U.S., Ellis said Thursday. The two will share the job until January, when Ellis hopes to name a starter.

"The great thing about these two are they are so darn competitive," Ellis said. "I think they are going to push each other and make each other better."

Midfielder Heather O'Reilly will play her final game for the U.S. Thursday. She played in 230 games, scored 46 goals, won three Olympic gold medals and a World Cup title.

The women's national team's next game will be in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome when they take on the Netherlands on Sept. 18.

PHOTOS | U.S. women's soccer team


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