“In My Opinion…”
Pia Sundhage, the “singing Swede” often set the mood for her U.S. Women’s National Team with a song.
One of Sweden’s great women’s soccer stars before becoming the U.S. coach five years ago, she heard the Star Spangled Banner played 107 times before sending her team out to play.
Her country has called and she’s coached her last game as the U.S. coach. It will be Sweden’s national anthem now before games that will stir her spirit.
But one thinks that for the rest of her life, when she hears those first five words – “Oh Say Can You See” – being sung, she will stand a little taller and have a smile on her face.
“I have long dreamed of becoming Sweden coach and now I am so happy,” Sundhage said when the announcement was made.
Her first day on the job is Dec. 1, one day after her contract with U.S. Soccer expires.
Her departure was not unexpected. After all, six years is a long time. The U.S. team was 91-6-10 since 2007. That included leading the Americans to back-to-back Olympic gold medals and their first World Cup final in 12 years.
The USA’s 2-1 victory over Japan in the London Olympic final was a rematch of the 2011 World Cup title game. A shootout loss to Japan at that World Cup was one of the most painful losses in U.S. team history.
The question now is who will replace Sundhage as the U.S. women’s senior coach?
It is a position that only six people have held.
The first was Mike Ryan, who coached the very first national teams in four games. Anson Dorrance posted a 66-22-5 record from 1986-1994, leading the team to the first World Championship in 1991 and a runnerup finish to Norway in 1995. He coached both the national team and his UNC Tar Heels at the same time.
Tony DiCicco put up a record of 103-8-8 until resigning in 1999. He was at the helm when the U.S. won the 1999 World Cup, their last, in Pasadena, CA, on a dramatic penalty kick shootout. DiCicco’s assistant Lauren Gregg then coached the team for three games.
April Heinrichs, one of the USA’s all-time great players and a member of the ’91 team, was the head coach for 124 games over four years, until being replaced by Greg Ryan in 2005.
Ryan’s national team record shows only one loss (45-1-9), but that came in the World Cup semifinals with a 4-0 loss to Brazil. That was the game Ryan replaced goalkeeper Hope Solo with veteran Briana Scurry. His decision and Solo’s reaction created an internal upheaveal within the team and was a primary factor in ending his U.S. WNT coaching career, and the hiring of Sundhage.
So who is in the on-deck circle? In recent years, former men’s national team players like Tab Ramos, Claudio Reyna, and Richie Williams now work with younger age national teams.
However, on the women’s side, few former national team players have gotten into coaching, and even fewer have stayed in the profession. Stars like Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Carla Overbeck, Kristine Lilly, etc., have been busy being parents.
Jim Gabarra, longtime head coach of the Washington Freedom and later Sky Blue FC, probably has the most professional experience in the U.S. women’s professional leagues. DiCicco has remained active as a professional coach with the Boston Breakers in both the WUSA and WPS.
Notre Dame’s Randy Waldrum is one of the most successful women’s collegiate coaches, and he would be an excellent choice. Steve Swanson, Virginia’s women’s coach, had a great run in taking the U.S. Under-20s to the FIFA U-20 World Cup championship over Germany.
Of the former national coaches who would like a second run, DiCicco has already publically made it known he’s like the job. Back in 2007 it was reported that his name was on the short list to replace Ryan when Sundhage was hired. Maybe once again!
Whoever gets the job will inherit a talented pool of players, but one that is close to needing some transition.
Some will retire, as Heather Mitts did after the Olympics. Christie Rampone is close. Alex Morgan and Sydney LeRoux are the next in line to provide the offense when Abby Wambach’s playing days are over.
A number of players from this year’s Under-20s will be contenders for spots on the 2015 World Cup team.
But it isn’t an easy job coaching the team that has been ranked #1 in the World for “lo these many years.”
In eight years combined, there were only a total of seven losses when Ryan and Sundhage held the reins. It is an amazing statistic!
The next coach needs to have the ability to motivate exceptional players with exceptional egos. Improve the technical and tactacail abilities of the players and the team.
Deal with the personalities and blend them into the framework of a team. Seek out leaders and challenge them with responsibility and a sense of mission.
And not be afraid to face the ultimate challenge to be perfect. After all, change just seven results in eight years and you have – perfection!