Aug. 21, 2008
By Michael Lewis
WILL PIA RETURN?
Gulati pleased with Sundhage's performance
Beijing, China -- Will Pia Sundhage return as U.S. women's national coach? U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati gave some pretty strong indications Thursday that she will, prior to the Americans taking on Brazil in the women's gold medal match.
Gulati said that he won't talk to Sundhage about extending her contract until the Olympics are finished. But Gulati said that he and secretary general Dan Flynn have been pleased with Sundhage's performance since she took over the team from Greg Ryan last November.
Sundhage and U.S. Soccer agreed to a contract through the Summer Games with the possibility of extending it two, three or four years; one of the criteria was dependent on how the Americans fared at the Olympics. The defending champion U.S. meets Brazil for the gold medal at 9 p.m. local time Thursday (USA Network, NBC Olympic Soccer Channel, 9 a.m. ET).
"The standard line is 'We'll handle everything after the event is over,' " Gulati said. "But its safe to say that Dan and are pleased with what we've seen from day one until now."
Judging Sundhage goes beyond how the U.S. will finish at the Olympics, Gulati stressed.
The general consensus among the soccer media at the Summer Games is that Sundhage got the most out of a team that did not have the personality of the 2004 gold-medal winners and that was forced to play without its star, team-leading goal-scorer Abby Wambach, who sat out the competition with a broken leg suffered last month.
Gulati has been impressed with the overall direction of the team.
"It's not a question of how we have done here," Gulati said at a local restaurant after watching the men defeated host Guatemala in a World Cup qualifying match, 1-0, on TV. "The last eight-nine months, I think the team probably has played a little bit differently than in the past. The players have reacted very well to her. overall, we are very pleased with the program. Except for five bad minutes against Norway, it has been pretty darn good. The tournament here, you can't lose a player like Abby and not have that impact."
Gulati gave some other clues that Sundhage will be back, assuming the Swede wants to return and can reach a deal with U.S. Soccer. Flynn also will have a role in the decision.
"We think she has done very well," Gulati said. "We think she brings a lot to the American game and to the American development process. She has not had a chance to impact some of those other areas because she has been [focused] in the team. But I think we'll get a lot some of the benefits from someone like Pia are long term.
"I will say we don't make our decision solely on one game. We're in the gold medal game and that's a pretty good start."
Gulati said he will seek Sundhage's impact on selecting a national women's technical director.
"Pia hasn't been part of that process because she has been focused on the Olympics," he said. "We'd like to get her engaged in some of that and do that right after the tournament."
The U.S. won't have another major FIFA competition until the 2011 Women's World Cup in Germany (June 26-July 17), which will be followed by the 2012 Olympics in London (July 27-Aug. 12).