103012_uswnt_isi_uswnthcs20121023017 Howard C. Smith/isiphotos.com

New USWNT Coach Raises Eyebrows, Hopes

Tom Sermanni's hire by the United States Soccer Federation comes as a shock to most people who have been paying attention. As Maura Gladys writes, it could go either way.
BY Maura Gladys Posted
October 31, 2012
6:17 AM
In a surprise move on Tuesday afternoon, the USSF named Australian women’s national team head coach Tom Sermanni to the top spot of the U.S. women’s soccer team. Both the announcement and the timing of the announcement come as a surprise.

The shock, however, wasn't because of Sermanni's credentials. He has an impressive international coaching resume, leading the Matildas to the Women’s World Cup quarterfinals in 2007 and 2011.

"He has the knowledge, experience, and vision to take on the challenge of keeping our team at the top of the world," U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said in a statement released by U.S. Soccer on Tuesday. "He has a tremendous passion for the game, knows the American players, understands our system, and knows the process of preparing a team for a World Cup tournament."

That said, it's a bit of a strange decision. For one, it comes two days before the November 1st deadline, in the shadow of one of the most vicious storms to hit the East Coast.

For another, the choice goes against many of Gulati’s previous comments.

“I’ve always said that if we’ve got the opportunity to hire an American coach, we’re going to do that if we think that’s the best choice for the program,” the USSF president said in a conference call with reporters on October 5. “Clearly an American coach brings a number of things: knowledge of the American game, knowledge of the American university system, knowledge of our youth programs, all of those things. If we can hire an American coach then that would be a great thing.”

Several Americans, including Tony DiCicco, Randy Waldrum, Steve Swanson, and Erica Walsh interviewed. ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle reported that DiCicco was Gulati’s second choice for the job.

"I'm going to be honest with you, I thought I was the best candidate and I still do," DiCicco told Carlisle. "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."

Sermanni does have experience with the U.S. domestic game, having coached in the now-defunct WUSA. He spent two years as a Bay Area Cyber Rays assistant and one season as the head coach of the New York Power, where he coached Christine Rampone and Shannon Boxx.

In any regard, the decision is made. Sermanni will not take over until January 1, allowing interim coach Jill Ellis to finish out the year. He will miss Stars and Stripes’ next two matches on November 28 and December 1 against Ireland, but he will attend the final three matches of 2012. Those fixtures have yet to be announced.

It's a new era for the USWNT. Here are three things that Sermanni’s appointment means for U.S. fans and players going forward.

1. Fun press conferences—He may not serenade the squad, but Sermanni does bring a measure of levity to the team. Like Pia Sundhage, Sermanni is an affable, laid back presence, and entertaining to watch. Plus, who doesn’t love a Scottish brogue? With Sermanni at the helm, you’ll see a light, relaxed team, hopefully one that is able to consistently achieve its massive potential. But it won’t be all fun. Sermanni has the ability to bring down the hammer when needed, and he is an expert player manager, something that will be key when dealing with the transition from veteran to youth players.

2. The emphasis will be on youth—Sermani’s Australia squads relied heavily upon younger players, and he does well with molding youth and letting them grow. This could signal a major turnover in the U.S. starting lineup, with veteran women like Boxx, Rampone, Carli Lloyd, and Heather O’Reilly making way for youngsters like Tobin Heath, Lauren Cheney, and Kelley O’Hara.

3. Expect creativity—Sermanni led the Matilda’s to the quarterfinals of the 2011 U.S. Women’s World Cup using three different lineups in the group stage and throwing several different looks at opponents. The coach’s knowledge of the game, plus his willingness to shift between formations and lineups is a perfect fit for the United States’ depth and versatility.

The new coach has big shoes to fill and plenty of work to do. Only time will tell if he's the correct choice. He is, however, almost certainly better than this guy:

Maura Gladys works in production for KICKTV. She also runs the goalkeeping blog All You Need Is Glove.

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