Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By CAITLIN MURRAY
Now that the dust is settling from Tom Sermanni’s shocking ouster as head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team, attention will turn to the next step: Finding his replacement.
It won’t be easy. Sermanni came to the U.S. with an impressive resume of international head coaching experience and was fired after losing just twice in 24 matches. U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati was short on specifics when explaining the dismissal this week, which may mean the problem with Sermanni was just as much how his style fit within the organization as much as his win-loss record.
With mere months until World Cup qualifying, U.S. Soccer will probably want to focus on finding the right cultural fit, even if it means selecting someone with less international experience. U.S. Soccer’s search committee will be looking to fill the position as soon as possible, but this summer is the deadline, Gulati said.
Gulati told reporters this week there is “a very short list” of candidates being considered for the job, without naming names. SBI takes a look at some potential candidates who may be top contenders:
U.S. Soccer may not have to look far. Ellis, U.S. Soccer’s development director, had served as interim coach when Pia Sundhage left for her native Sweden, tallying a 5-0-2 record – but Ellis had removed herself from consideration for the permanent job. Now Ellis will resume that role in Sermanni’s absence, which could potentially end up being a trial before a job offer. Gulati told reporters this week she hadn’t said anything about her interest in the job this time around yet, but she would be qualified for almost any job. It seems that if she wants it, she will be at the top of the list.
He was Pia Sundhage’s assistant coach when the team won the gold medal at the London Olympics, which may make Gustavsson the next best thing to having Sundhage return. U.S. Soccer was clearly disappointed with Sundhage’s decision to leave after her contract expired to coach Sweden and Gustavsson may be able to bring some of her style back. But Gustavsson now has a record of his own to lean on, having coached UEFA Champion’s League powerhouse Tyreso since August 2012. This year, the club seems poised to win the whole tournament, with a semifinal match next week. Gustavsson’s contract with the club ends after this season and he sounded interested when asked about the job by Swedish press this week. It probably can’t hurt that on Tyreso, he has coached five current USWNT pool players.
A former assistant of Pia Sundhage during the USWNT’s 2011 World Cup run, Walsh has a combination of top-level experience that makes her a contender. She has been for eight years head coach for the women’s soccer program at Penn State, where she led the team to its first national championship appearance last year. But she’s also something of a journeyman in U.S. Soccer, having worked as an assistant coach for the U-19 and head coach for the U-17 women’s teams, in addition to working under Sundhage. Walsh would be adept at working with the young talent Sermanni had brought in under his tenure, if that’s what U.S. Soccer wants.
After being passed over last year for the head coach position with the English national women’s team late in the process, Riley may get a chance at an even higher profile gig. The timing, however, is not great. Riley, who has a long resume of successfully coaching clubs in the U.S., just started as coach of the Portland Thorns in December. He is happy in Portland and under contract there, he told reporters this week – but that doesn’t mean he isn’t interested in the USWNT job. Doing both would be feasible and he would be keen to juggle club and country in the short-term: “Obviously, the U.S. job is the No. 1 job in the world,” he said. “If anybody said they wouldn’t be interested, then they’d be lying.” The biggest obstacle for Riley may not be his new job in Portland, but rather the fact that he’s never been a coach within U.S. Soccer before.
The timing isn’t any better for Waldrum. He left a 15-season career coaching the women’s team at Notre Dame in January to join the Houston Dash, a new expansion club in the National Women’s Soccer League. He’s got an impressive resume, winning two NCAA championships and serving as U-23 USWNT coach since 2012. But it’s hard to see Waldrum giving up the stability of a 15-year career in college soccer to roll the dice on a job like the one with the USWNT, where Sermanni was fired after less than 16 months without even seeing it coming. Waldrum told reporters this week he is focused on his first season with the Dash and he had not been approached by U.S. Soccer about the job, but even if he had been, there’s a chance Waldrum would pass.
Less than three weeks before Sermanni was fired, Namazi was brought in as Sermanni’s full-time assistant coach – but there’s a chance he could end up becoming Sermanni’s replacement. Namazi joined the USWNT from a stint as an assistant coach for the Iran Men’s National Team, helping the team qualify for this summer’s World Cup in Brazil. But stretching back further, Namazi coached a season the WUSA league and then for the Chicago Red Stars for one season. Namazi already has a foot in the door and his resume could be the right mix of women’s soccer experience and international experience for what U.S. Soccer’s search committee wants.
He’s a big name who needs no introduction to the soccer world. DiCicco memorably led the USWNT to a 1999 World Cup win in front of a record-breaking crowd – a moment widely seen as putting women’s soccer on the map in America. But DiCicco’s legendary status was sealed in an era when women’s soccer looked much different. The game is more technical and more possession-oriented now, and the competition is tougher. There is the lingering question of whether DiCicco can adapt to that. After his USWNT career, DiCicco moved onto to club soccer, coaching the Boston Breakers to mixed results, showing that his USWNT success is not something easily repeated. Despite DiCicco’s resume – two World Cup gold medals – U.S. Soccer would be rolling the dice on someone who hasn’t coached in several years if they pick DiCicco.
What do you think of this list? Is there anyone else you see as a top contender? Who do you think U.S. Soccer will select? Who do you think they should select?
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