Maura Gladys with all you need to know about the USWNT’s new head coach
Not many people were ready for the timing or content announcement. Shortly before 2 p.m. yesterday the Twitter universe was abuzz with the rumor that U.S. Soccer would announce the new coach of the U.S. Women’s Soccer team. That part wasn’t so surprising. (Although, some wondered why it was made in the midst of the worst storm to hit the East Coast in years). What was surprising was that the coach was Australian women’s national team head coach Tom Sermanni. Not considered a front-runner, Sermanni was kind of like that “mystery team” that’s always involved in a high-profile MLB or NFL trade rumor, but rarely comes out on top. But this time, the mystery candidate did, and after an initial shock, Sermanni has received overwhelming support and positive reviews.
Several American candidates including former-USWNT-coach Tony DiCicco, Notre Dame head coach Randy Waldrum and U.S. U-20 women’s national team head coach Steve Swanson seemed poised to take the position, especially since USSF president Sunil Gulati intimated several times that he wanted a coach with extensive U.S. experience. Although he doesn’t have much U.S. experience (three years coaching in the now-defunct WUSA), Sermani has 11 years of international experience, all with Australia.
Sermanni guided the Matildas from a floundering program to one of the most respected in the world, with a core of young talent and a bright future. He did that through cultivating a buy-in culture among the team, where players could be called upon to fill any role and would step up and do it (similar to Pia Sundhage’s strategy with the U.S. team.) But how else can Sermanni’s magic down-under translate to success for the U.S.? Here’s how he got the most out of Australia over those 11 years, and how it can directly help the U.S.
In the spring of 2011, just months before the Matilda’s would play in the 2011 Women’s World Cup, Sermanni sent home team star Lisa de Vanna from a training camp. De Vanna, who starred for Australia in the 2007 World Cup, scoring four goals in the tournament and earning a 2007 Women’s World Play of the Year nomination, was said to have “skipped out on media commitments, walked out of the team photograph and failed to fulfill training requirements”. Instead of trying to massage the situation, Sermanni expelled de Vanna from the camp.
“The de Vanna issue, what it does, from a team and coaching perspective, it takes up time and it distracts from the plans that you’re trying to put together,” Sermanni said at the time.
”We do expect a certain standard of behaviour and how people represent the Matildas. There were things around that weren’t satisfactory. We tried to get a solution but we didn’t get it.”
Sermanni navigated situation with extreme professionalism, not allowing de Vanna’s antics to overshadow the team, and speaking forcefully about the level of expectations required to play for Australia. His handling of the situation set a standard for the rest of the team and prevented the issue from becoming a larger distraction.
This willingness to lay down the law will be essential with the U.S., a team that tends to run into controversy a bit more frequently than it might like, and it’s one of the reasons that several current U.S. players were lobbying for Sermanni, according to Adrian Healey.
Sermanni is an unabashed supporter of growing a team through youth and challenging them in big situations. At the 2011 Women’s World Cup, 18 of his 21 players were 25 or younger, five of them teenagers. They weren’t just there to observe either. Seventeen-year-old utility player Caitlin Foord was named Best Young Player award at the 2011 World Cup while 20-year-old Kyah Simon scored a brace in Australia’s come-from-behind win against Norway that guaranteed them passaged into the next round.
For the U.S., this likely means more playing time not only for current young stars Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan, Lauren Cheney and Sydney Leroux (all of whom are over 22 and must seem ancient in Sermanni’s book) but caps for U-23 standout Sarah Hagen or 20-year-old Julie Johnston, among many others.
He alluded to as much in a conference call with reporters earlier this afternoon.
“I think the key thing is to be able to bring players into a National Team camp and give them opportunities and that’s what I want to try and do… I’m certainly not averse to throwing players into the mix and to try and develop players who are outside the established group at the moment.”
-Sermanni did much with little in Australia, employing aggressive, proactive tactical formations that challenged his players, and made it tough for opponents to defend. He now has the most talented team in the world at his fingertips and can take the squad, for which Pia planted the seed of possession soccer, to a level of true technical mastery. It was expected that U.S. Soccer would hire a manager that would put more emphasis on skill rather than athleticism, and Sermanni’s deep knowledge of the game is a perfect fit.
In his conference call, Sermanni stressed a commitment to “positive possession” soccer.
“You do want to keep developing your team to play a better brand of soccer, to play more…not possession for the sake of possession, but a positive style of possession, where the team is comfortable playing in tight areas, comfortable to back themselves in keeping the ball, comfortable to back themselves and be patient when they have to be patient,” he said.
Sermanni will have his work cut out for him when he formally takes over on January 1. But, with his knowledge and experience, and the tantalizing amount of talent on the U.S. squad, his appointment means exciting times ahead for U.S. women’s soccer.