USWNT: In Search Of… The Next Head Coach

Before Saturday’s friendly against Costa Rica, U.S. Soccer announced that Pia Sundhage would be stepping down after the Australia friendlies and returning to Sweden to pursue other opportunities. Well, before Sundhage even left Rochester, the SvFF announced on their website that Sundhage had been hired as the new head coach of Sweden’s Women’s National Team, starting on December 1st.

With Sundhage’s upcoming departure, the search for a new head coach of the United States Women’s National Team begins.

The rest of this article reviews (1) what is known about the search process for this cycle, which is very little, so details from past searches are also mentioned, and (2) a non-exhaustive, unofficial best guess of who some of the candidates may be.

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THE SEARCH PROCESS

U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati has already stated that a search committee would be formed. (Gulati quote sheet, USSoccer.com). This is in keeping with past hirings. In 2007, a three-person committee of Gulati, U.S. Soccer CEO Secretary General Dan Flynn, and Mia Hamm was formed (USSoccer.com) and eventually hired Pia Sundhage. Back in 2005, when April Heinrichs resigned, there was also a search committee (see this San Diego Union-Tribune article), but details on that are sketchy. And, in 1999-2000, after Tony DiCicco stepped down, there was a search committee that included then-current U.S. co-captain Carla Overbeck (SoccerAmerica.com).

The unofficial deadline for finding a new head coach is Saturday, October 20th, when the USWNT takes on Germany in the first of the squad’s recently announced back-to-back friendlies (USSoccer.com). That will be the first friendly scheduled after Sundhage’s last match, which will be on September 19th against Australia.

This will give U.S. Soccer about 45 days for the hiring process, which is on the high end of the projected timeline for the search process in 2007 (USSoccer.com). Although, back in 2007, it only took about three-and-a-half weeks from the announcement that Ryan’s contract would not be renewed, on October 22nd, and the announcement that Sundhage was hired, on November 13th.

More details on the search process for this cycle should be available in the next week or so, but there is some useful information available from past hirings.

During the process to find a new coach after Tony DiCicco stepped down in late 1999, the review procedures and the shortlist of candidates was made public. From a December 1999 SoccerAmerica.com article:

The Federation asked each of the candidates to send in a résumé and a five-to six-page vision statement on how they see the program. They will be interviewed by a committee that will include U.S. co-captain Carla Overbeck.

The candidates will be judged on (1) their international experience, (2) their ability to manage a senior group of players, and (3) their ability to work within the Federation. That last criterion is important because the Federation may make the new coach the technical director for all the women’s national teams.

[Then U.S. Soccer President Bob] Contiguglia will choose the coach, although the U.S. Soccer Executive Committee has to OK the appointment.

For finding a new head coach after Greg Ryan was let go in October 2007, Sunil Gulati stated that the two key criteria then was (1) a familiarity with women’s soccer in the United States, and (2) experience at a high level, although not necessarily international (USSoccer.com). This time around, the first criteria should be less important since the new head coach will have more time to get up to speed as there are no major tournaments until Women’s World Cup qualifying in 2014.

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POSSIBLE CANDIDATES

No official or unofficial news has come out regarding any potential candidates, so this list of candidates is primarily educated speculation. Each sub-list is in alphabetical order.

In the two previous hiring cycles, the following were more-or-less on the short list and could still be available for this cycle:

  • Jillian Ellis (UCLA bio), the current Women’s Development Director and former head coach at UCLA. Ellis has served as an assistant under Sundhage and would be a natural in-house choice. However, her tenure as U-20 USWNT head coach for the 2010 cycle was less than stellar, as that team exited the 2010 U-20 Women’s World Cup at the quarterfinals stage. Also, under her, UCLA made the College Cup eight times under her tenure (1999-2010), getting to the title match three times, but never winning a national title (2010 quick fact sheet, PDF).
  • Jim Gabarra (Wikipedia), a USMNT alumnus and former professional player, he has coached in both the WPS and WUSA. He is married to USWNT alumna Carin Jennings-Gabarra, who is the long time head coach at the Naval Academy. With the Washington Freedom, he got to the title match two years in a row, coming up short in 2002, but winning in 2003.
  • Tom Sermanni (Wikipedia), the Scottish-born current head coach of Australia WNT and a former head coach in the WUSA, who was on the short list in 2007 (www.smh.com.au), but decided to stay with Australia (www.smh.com.au). Given his preference back then to stay and continue to build Australia program, it seems unlikely he would be a serious candidate this time around.
  • Jerry Smith (SCU bio), the head coach at Santa Clara and the husband of USWNT alumna Brandi Chastain. With Santa Clara, he won an NCAA National Championship in 2001 and was runner-up the following year. His current contract does not expire until after the 2013 season (cstv.com), so there is that possible complication.

[In 2007, the New York Times‘ Jeré Longman and SoccerAmerica.com’s Paul Kennedy both mentioned Jerry Smith and Jim Gabarra.]

Currently ‘newer’ names being mentioned include:

  • Aaran Lines (biography, www.sahlensportspark.com via Google Cache), the head coach of Western New York Flash,  who were WPS Champions under him in 2011. Lines is a former New Zealand international and played professionally in Germany.
  • Albertin Montoya (Wikipedia), the current head coach of the U-17 USWNT, is a former MLS player and was on the U-17 USMNT. He was the head coach of the FC Gold Pride in the WPS. The Pride finished last in 2009 but won the championship in 2010, and then folded.
  • Paul Riley (bio, www.paulrileysoccer.com), who coached the Philadelphia Independence in the WPS and the New York Fury in the WPSL Elite. Riley is known to be outspoken and after the 2011 Women’s World Cup, is on record criticizing Pia Sundhage for “destroying” Amy Rodriguez’s confidence (www.phillysoccernews.com). Given that Riley has not exactly endeared himself to U.S. Soccer, he is probably a long shot.
  • Randy Waldrum (bio, www.und.com), the head coach at Notre Dame and the current head coach of the Under-23 USWNT. With Notre Dame, he has won two national championships (2004 and 2010). Waldrum has also coached the U-17 WNT of Trinidad & Tobago, back in 2008 (SoccerAmerica.com).

[Jeff Kassouf on goal.com and Jenna Pel at ProSoccerTalk.com have both mentioned Lines and Riley. Jeré Longman of the New York Times has mentioned Randy Waldrum. And, stretching for a source, here… Robert Jonas, a reporter who covers the MLS has mentioned Albertin Montoya on Twitter.]

And, some potential dark horse candidates:

  • Carin Jennings-Gabarra (NavySports.com bio), a USWNT alumna and the MVP at the 1991 Women’s World Cup, has been the head coach at the Naval Academy since 1993. She has never won a National Championship with Navy, but she has built a strong and successful program. Jennings-Gabarra currently serves on the technical committee for U.S. Soccer and heads the Women’s Player Development Task Force, which is studying and proposing ways to improve player development in the USA.
  • Maren Meinert (Wikipedia), the current head coach of Germany’s U-20 WNT, won a Women’s World Cup with Germany as a player in 2003 and played in the WUSA for the Boston Breakers. With the German U-20s, she won a Under-20 Women’s World Cup on home soil in 2010.
  • Carolina Morace (Wikipedia), one of the top goal-scorers in the international women’s soccer, she was previously the head coach for Italy and Canada. During her tenure with Canada, it is probably not an exaggeration to say that she was beloved by her players and despised by the powers that be in Canada Soccer (see this cbc.ca article, for example). And, there is the issue of Canada’s poor performance in the 2011 Women’s World Cup. But, without Morace’s groundwork, Canada would probably not have medalled in the 2012 Olympics.

8 thoughts on “USWNT: In Search Of… The Next Head Coach”

  1. I’m a little disappointed that the supposed short list only contains the name of one woman. Although I’m not opposed to a male coach, I think this a great opportunity for US Soccer to continue to show confidence in the abilities of qualified women coaches.

    1. Walsh was not on the rumored short lists back in 2005 or 2007 (the criteria for the first sub-list above), nor has her name come up in any articles that I’ve seen over the weekend (the criteria for middle sub-list). Besides Walsh, there’s a number of other college coaches who could be in the mix, but none have been given serious mentions as far as I have seen or read. And, I did not want to have a long speculative list of names at this early stage in the process.

      Also, earlier in the year, Walsh stepped down from her assistant coaching position with the USWNT for family reasons, as her mother is battling cancer. [See With Erica Walsh, Family Comes First (www.gopsusports.com).] So, at this time, it seems that she is unlikely to be willing to take on a major new job.

  2. Thanks, this blog is full of info, great. Carolina Morace would be wonderful, I think players like Pinoe would really like her. They need someone really nice to get over loosing Pia.

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