Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Sermanni a fine choice to lead the USWNT
By Jeff Carlisle
When Pia Sundhage resigned as U.S. women's national team manager in September, U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati vowed to hire the best candidate available as a replacement. Granted, everyone running a coaching search says that. But on Tuesday, Gulati proved to be true to his word, securing the services of Australia women's team manager Tom Sermanni.
Sermanni will be introduced at a news conference Wednesday, and it's as good a hire as Gulati could have hoped to make. After all, the Scot's resume and demeanor are remarkably similar to that of the woman he's replacing. Like Sundhage, Sermanni has a long history in the women's game that includes an assistant coaching role in the now-defunct WUSA with the San Jose CyberRays and a head coaching spell with the New York Power.
But it was Sermanni's extensive international experience, comprised of two stints as head coach of Australia, that likely tipped the scales in his favor. When his second spell in charge began in late 2004, Australia had never won a game at a World Cup finals, yet Sermanni went on to lead the Matildas to the quarterfinals in 2007 and 2011. In the process he showed a knack for introducing young players into the national squad while also managing some big personalities, such as Australia forward Lisa De Vanna.
"Sermanni has taken a team and done incredible things with an average age of about 12," joked former U.S. international and current ESPN television analyst Julie Foudy. "Half of the team are 16-year-olds. That is incredibly impressive to me. But what has always impressed me the most about Tom from knowing him personally is he's just one of the stand-up, quality, really ethical, really positive guys that is a wonderful manager of people. I've never met anyone, friend or enemy, that doesn’t just love him."
More: Sermanni signs on as new U.S. women's coach
But while there was near-universal praise for Sermanni’s coaching ability, the hire does represent something of a blow to the American coaching community. Former U.S. head coach and current ESPN television analyst Tony DiCicco, who was among those interviewed for the job, said via telephone that USSF general secretary Dan Flynn informed him that he was the second choice. And while he was full of praise for Sermanni, he couldn't hide his disappointment.
"I'm going to be honest with you, I thought I was the best candidate and I still do," said DiCicco. "I'm disappointed that [Gulati] thinks so little of American coaches. But it's hard to say for me that he didn't make a good choice. Tom Sermanni is a good choice and can -- as so many of us can -- win with this team."
Furthermore, three of the more highly regarded female candidates -- former U.S. assistant coach Marcia McDermott, current U.S. development director Jillian Ellis and Penn State women's coach Erica Walsh -- showed at best tepid interest in the position.
As for Sermanni, while he inherits a talented team, that doesn't mean there won't be challenges. The core of the team is aging, and with the next World Cup not taking place until 2015, the time is now to begin introducing some new elements into the squad. That means Sermanni will have some difficult conversations ahead as he tries to manage that transition.
Another open question centers on the extent to which Sermanni will involve himself with the youth programs. Sundhage made it abundantly clear during her tenure that she only wanted to concern herself with coaching the senior national team. Gulati, in his public statements during the coaching search, indicated he wanted greater involvement, and with good reason. The U.S. is widely perceived as falling behind its international rivals in terms of technical ability. DiCicco, who also coached the U.S. U-20 team to a World Cup title in 2008, agrees there's a need for more integration between the various national team programs.
"To be able to communicate with our youth programs, and say, 'This is the type of player we need to develop,' it just hasn't been happening," he said. "Ultimately, if you give the youth programs direction, they try to get it right. Without it, youth soccer in American is just big business."
Sermanni's time in the U.S. (brief as it was) will no doubt prove to be a benefit in this area, and he'll have plenty of help from Ellis and April Heinrichs, the technical director for the U.S. women’s soccer programs.
But above all, Sermanni will be expected to win and match the feats of Sundhage, who led the U.S. to the final of three major tournaments during her time in charge, winning two of them. That will be a huge challenge, but one that Sermanni certainly has the knowledge and experience to meet.