It is two weeks after the announcement that Pia Sundhage would step down as head coach of the United States Women’s National Team and there has yet to be any sort of clarity regarding the potential candidates for the head coaching position.
Potential candidates who have said that they are not interested in the position at this time include U.S. Soccer Development Director Jill Ellis, Penn State head coach Erica Walsh, and former USWNT assistant coach Marcia McDermott.
Names still in the mix include past USWNT head coach Tony DiCicco, former Philadelphia Independence head coach Paul Riley, and Western New York Flash head coach Aaran Lines. However, things appear to still be in the résumé submission stage, so there is no short list of candidates yet, whether official or unofficial.
WHO’S IN(TERESTED) — Tony DiCicco, Paul Riley, and Aaran Lines.
- Tony DiCicco, during a pre-taped segment shown during a couple Under-20 Women’s World Cup matches on ESPNU, said that he would be interested in another go as head coach.
- Paul Riley has been the most vocal candidate so far, although its unclear who contacted whom first: Riley or U.S. Soccer, but probably Riley. See also: TropiGol.com article by Michael Lewis (11-Sept), interview with Potomac Soccer Wire (11-Sept), and pro-Riley editorial by Mike Servedio of Philly Soccer Page (7-Sept).
- Aaran Lines has expressed an interest, although it is unclear whether he has been in contact with U.S. Soccer (Buffalo.com interview, 10-Sept).
Other candidates, such as Steve Swanson (University of Virginia head coach and current U-20 USWNT head coach) and Randy Waldrum (University of Notre Dame head coach and current U-23 USWNT head coach) are believed to be in the running, but their interest in applying for the job has yet to be publicly confirmed.
WHO’S OUT — Jill Ellis, Erica Walsh, and Marcia McDermott. The fact that Ellis is not a candidate is not that big of a surprise, given her family situation.
- Jill Ellis: On September 12th, ESPN writer Jeff Carlisle tweeted that Ellis would not pursue the job, with this quote attributed to her: “My commitment at this is point is to my position with youth [soccer] and my personal life.” (Tweet #1, #2, #3) Ellis is currently the Women’s Development Director for U.S. Soccer, where she interacts with youth soccer clubs and organizations, along with overseeing the U-14 scouting and identification camps. Although there is some travel, the demands for her current positions are much, much less than what they would be if she was the head coach of the USWNT.
- Erica Walsh: On September 10th, Carlisle tweeted that Walsh was not planning on applying for the job, quoting her as saying “My focus is on Penn State.” As noted in the comments of a previous article, this year Walsh stepped down from her assistant head coaching position with the USWNT for family reasons, as her mother is battling cancer.
- Marcia McDermott: Also on the 12th, Carlisle tweeted that McDermott was not interested in the position.
WHO’S UP — Steve Swanson. As head coach of the Under-20 USWNT, he guided them to the USA’s third Under-20 Women’s World Cup title in early September. The USA did struggle in the group stage, but Swanson never appeared to panic. And, Swanson was able to put together a winning strategy after the setback of losing Lindsey Horan very late in the cycle. Additionally, he showed some creativity with the use of the midfielder Samantha Mewis as a substitute forward.
WHO’S DOWN — Jill Ellis and Paul Riley.
- Jill Ellis: Even if she changes her mind, Ellis’ chances of getting the head coaching position are lower due to the success of Steve Swanson at this year’s Under-20 Women’s World Cup. Two years ago, Ellis’ team failed to get beyond the quarterfinals and generally played poor soccer.
- Paul Riley’s fixation on a new women’s pro league being _the_ top priority for the next USWNT head coach seems misguided and his comments regarding players having bad games not being called up is either hypocritical or flip-flopping, given past statements (e.g. “Pia ruined her,” with ‘her’ being Amy Rodriguez). On the other hand, perhaps Riley does not think that he is a top pick and is promoting the idea that the next USWNT head coach to really work with the league in the same way that a political candidate who is not or no longer a favorite pushes for a particular issue to be adopted by a fellow candidate.
AND… WHO? — Two of the names to more curiously pop up in various articles are past USWNT head coaches April Heinrichs and Anson Dorrance.
- Regarding Heinrichs, are memories so short that no one remembers the disaster that was the 2003 Women’s World Cup? And, all the conflicts between Heinrichs and players? Let alone, her problems in game management (e.g., poor substitution practices, just sitting on the sidelines, not making tactical adjustments, etc.) and her problematic management of the player pool (e.g., slow to bring in Wambach and Boxx, not really using the WUSA to find new players, etc.). Like Ellis, Heinrichs has a cozy, fairly low stress job in U.S. Soccer and seems unlikely to leave the security of that job. Even given how U.S. Soccer politics tends to work, Sunil Gulati, who tends to be risk averse, choosing Heinrichs seems unlikely, as her negatives greatly increases the chances of blowback, should things with the USWNT go south.
- Anson Dorrance has always shown a strong affinity to the women’s soccer program at the University of North Carolina, a.k.a., his “Dynasty.” Dorrance was unwilling to step down as head coach of UNC when he also helmed the USWNT. And, until someone actually gets Dorrance on the record as saying otherwise, it seems extremely unlikely that he would voluntarily leave Chapel Hill to take another job.
Other odd names to pop up online, mostly in fan forums, are Japan’s Norio Sasaki and Canada’s John Herdman. The pining for these coaches seems to be a case of the “grass is greener on the other side of the fence.”
- John Herdman only became the head coach of Canada in September 2011 (CanadaSoccer.com) and seems unlikely to leave that job. Regardless of the terms of his contract, resigning after one year could negatively impact his chances with future employers. However, he seems intent on leading Canada to a triumphant performance in the 2015 Women’s World Cup, which will be hosted by Canada (FIFA.com).
- Norio Sasaki: After the Olympics, there were reports that he would step down as head coach of Japan, but it now appears that he could stay on, as the JFA is negotiations with Sasaki (JapanTimes.co.jp), so he may not even be available. Even if he is available, there is the question of Sasaki’s English language proficiency (note: unable to find anything on that), as well as the question of Japan-USA cultural differences in the coaching of women’s teams.