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U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM

Nov. 13, 2007
RARING TO GO
Sundhage is eager to start with WNT

Michael Lewis
BigAppleSoccer.com Editor

Pia Sundhage: "Nowadays, the defending is so good that you have to dictate the tempo; sometimes speed it up, sometimes slow it down. That’s something that we want to work on.”
Pia Sundhage: "Nowadays, the defending is so good that you have to dictate the tempo; sometimes speed it up, sometimes slow it down. That’s something that we want to work on.”
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
For the first time in its 22-year history, the U.S. Women’s National Team went outside the United States to hire a coach, naming former Sweden international forward Pia Sundhage Tuesday.

Sundhage will direct the team through next year's Beijing Olympics with options to extend the contract. The next Women’s World Cup will be in Germany in 2011.

Sundhage, 47, will replace Greg Ryan, whose contract was not renewed after the U.S.'s disappointing third-place finish at the recent Women's World Cup. She also became the second woman to guide the team on a fulltime basis; April Heinrichs coached the squad from 2000-2004.

She will coach the team through next year's Beijing Olympics with options to extend the contract. The next Women's World Cup will be held in Germany in 2011.

"What we have is a short-term objective, which is to qualify for, participate and hopefully win the gold medal at the Olympics," U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said during a conference call. "Then we have a break in the program, so it’s a natural time. What we have is an agreement that takes us through the year and then an arrangement which allows us to extend that for a number of years, in fact, more than two or three.”

Gulati said that taking home the gold wasn't the criteria to keep Sundhage in the job, although the U.S. has a history of winning big at the Summer Games. The Americans captured gold medals at the 1996 and 2004 tournaments and the silver at the 2000 Sydney Games.

“There’s not a quantitative target and we will assess the whole thing, and frankly, she’ll assess how the experience has been for her," he said. "We want to see, over the next year, how the program develops, realizing full well that a number of things that someone like Pia brings to the table are long term.

"We’re not going to affect our style of play in a few weeks or in a few months, as she understands that the short term objective is success in Beijing, but that over the long term we want to impact, not just the Women’s National Team, but our Youth National Teams and, in fact, women’s and girls’ soccer across the country. That’s a longer-term project. We’re hoping, frankly, that she’s with us for a long time.”

Sundhage (pronounced Soond-hahg-Eh) said she didn't mind the one-year deal.

“I like the challenge," she said. "I think it’s a good idea to have the Olympics, and then it makes sense to see how that goes even though it’s a short amount of time."

Her charge is to improve the U.S. over a short period of time in the wake of the U.S.'s disappointing third-place finish at the recent WWC in China.

"It’s very tight at the top level," he said. "It’s about being comfortable with the ball. I don’t think that’s a big step but it’s a very important step. When you’re comfortable with the ball you can dictate the tempo. Nowadays, the defending is so good that you have to dictate the tempo; sometimes speed it up, sometimes slow it down. That’s something that we want to work on.”

Sundhage most recently was the assistant coach of the Chinese women's national side.

She will definitely have China on her mind when she gathers the team for training in January -- after a mini-camp in Carson, Calif. in December -- as it prepares for the Olympic qualifying for the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. The qualifiers are expected to be held in February. The annual Four Nations Cup also is scheduled for China in January.

She scouted for the U.S. at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens and guided the Boston Breakers to a first-place finish in the old Women's United Soccer Association in 2003.

Sundhage became the second woman to guide the team. Heinrichs directed the Americans to a third-place finish at the 2003 WWC while taking a silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and a gold at the Athens Summer Games.

“In an ideal world, if everything was equal, I’d prefer to have a woman be our National Team coach," Gulati said. "If everything was equal, I’d prefer to have someone who was fit for the U.S. game for 30 years. But rarely are things always equal and so, in that case, we picked absolutely the best person in that Pia has both played the game and coached the game at a high level and has been very successful at it, which is more important than gender. That we’ve been able to hire a woman to lead the program is a big plus.”

She sounded like she was ready to coach the team today.

"In order to be successful, you need passion, inspiration, and like to be challenged," she said. "I know that I have a passion for the game. I will inspire the players and the coaching staff and I love the challenge. That’s why I love to be here, again, it is a great chance for me, a great opportunity and I will do my very, very best.”

Sundhage, the all-time leading international goal-scorer Sweden women's history (71 times in 146 games), interviewed for the U.S. women's position in 2005 during the tenure of U.S. Soccer president Dr. Bob Contiguglia, who picked Ryan instead.

Gulati was head of the search committee, which included U.S. Soccer general secretary Dan Flynn, former U.S. women’s superstar Mia Hamm.

Ryan sealed his fate as coach when, in a controversial move, he decided to replace regular goalkeeper Hope Solo with veteran Briana Scurry for the semifinal match with Brazil. Scurry was 12-0 vs. the South American side, but hadn't played a full game since a 2-0 victory over Brazil at Giants Stadium June 23.

This time, however, the Brazilians rolled to a 4-0 triumph over the U.S. Solo compounded the controversy by criticizing Ryan and Scurry in the media. She was banned from the team for the rest of the tournament, although she later apologized.

“Coaching is about communication," Sundhage said. "We will respect each other. Hope is a good goalkeeper and we have to move on. It’s important that everybody feels that the team is important and you treat every individual with respect. If I could communicate, I’m good at that, and I think that will be no problem. You talk to people, be yourself and sort it out. Hope is a good goalkeeper and that’s a good start.”

Former U.S. women's national coach Tony DiCicco, who guided the Americans to an Olympic gold medal (1996) and a world championship (1999), was among the finalists this time.
   
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