soccer

Next U.S. women’s coach? Safe status quo vs. shakeup

U.S. Soccer faces a major question as it seeks a new women’s coach: Does the team need a tune-up or an overhaul?

Pia Sundhage did a terrific job making incremental changes and managing the big names and big personalities in the core of the U.S. team. The result: Two Olympic gold medals, second place in a classic Women’s World Cup, and all the usual wins in the usual tournaments the USA keeps dominating even as the rest of the world gets more serious about this sport.

The coaching search and speculation are heating up, and we have a couple of terrific analyses this week from Lauren Barker and Richard Farley, focusing on two and a half candidates: Notre Dame/U.S. U-23 coach Randy Waldrum and WPS/WPSL vet Paul Riley as the top two, with former U.S. coach Tony DiCicco also in the mix.

We could be way off in anointing these three as the top candidates, of course, and I’m skeptical of DiCicco’s candidacy. Barker reminds us that he left the Boston Breakers to return home to Connecticut with his family, his camp business and a large international sports network that frequently uses him as a TV analyst. (His current job, Barker says: “”ESPN Soccer Analyst/Person Who Looks Almost Orange Enough on TV To Be The Much Older Lost Jersey Shore Cast Member/Max Bretos and Bob Ley Interrupter.”) He had a fine run as U.S. coach — Olympic gold in 1996, World Cup title in 1999. But he would be in his upper 60s for the next World Cup and Olympics. Why would he want to give it another run?

Foreign coaches also could be in the mix again. Australia’s Tom Sermanni had a bit of buzz when his young team gave the USA a couple of good games. If I were hiring, I’d at least want to chat with German youth coach Maren Meinert, one of the best players in the WUSA a decade ago.

But a Waldrum-Riley race would give us a convenient contrast between insider and outsider. Waldrum, in his U23 role, has been working with many of the young players who will need to replace some of the older players over the next few years. Riley has been on the outside yelling that Pia Sundhage was ruining Amy Rodriguez.

Many fans will have preferences based on how much they love or hate Riley, who has been in the news more than Waldrum thanks to his WPS playoff runs and lively quotes. But from a hiring perspective, it’s as much about the status quo as it is about anything else.

No one thinks Sundhage’s team has been perfect. The defense has been erratic, especially without Ali Krieger. Fans scream on Twitter with every misstep in the midfield. The next coach will have to address those issues, carefully bring in new players to push those who are aging or out of form, and deal with some of the oversized personalities in the locker room.

Even an insider would have to make a few changes here and there. But an outsider could bring a different perspective to everything from the player pool to the team’s image. Would a new coach bring back Leslie Osborne and finally get to the bottom of why Lori Chalupny has been cleared to play for club but not country? If it’s Riley, would we see the return of Tasha Kai?

And what about tactics and style? The younger generations have shown more aptitude for playing the possession game Sundhage preached but never really implemented. Would a new coach press the team’s veterans to adapt?

It’s a stark choice. Which way would you go?

5 replies »

  1. As a passionate follower of the WPS it should be noted that Paul Riley did wonders with a minimal budget and therefore a team that had few stars. It was stunning that his team could go so far two years in a row.

    I am therefore confident that he has the ability to take the USWNT to the next level. Equally importantly I think he would be a very positive influence in helping develop a professional league in the US that has staying power.

    My only worry is that he may like the sound of his voice a bit too much. He was the biggest personality on his team. This does not seem right for the USWNT. Could he make the adjustment?

    I would be sorely tempted to give him a chance but give him a short initial contract.

  2. Pia is going to be a hard act to follow. And this next head coach will have some hard decisions to make. No matter what the new head coach does or what direction this coach sets the USWNT on, fans will be upset. D**ned no matter what.

  3. How well did Riley perform with the Fury last year? For all his brilliance, there are red flags with him. The first one is his Brian Clough-wannabe act, which has the possibility of leading to a modern adaptation of “The Damned United” if he gets the job. Then there is the issue of him being convinced of his brilliance, which can lead a coach into fielding inferior players compared to what’s available as well as making dumb decisions by out-thinking one’s self. Finally, there is his obsession with having a domestic professional league, something that would be neither part of his job (unless he has ulterior motives for wanting it) nor something he would have any power over (unless the USSF secretly possesses The Green Lantern).

  4. Riley would clearly be an exciting option. What’s so wrong with a head coach talking too much @quickasaflash? One of the biggest barriers to the USWNT’s progress has always been the tail wagging the dog due to the even then bench players being bigger stars than the coach. Riley would be a fresh blast of our own Jose Mourinho… someone confident and driven who takes the spotlight off the players (often for good reason, so they can focus on the game and not outside distractions). There is A LOT of nepotism in US Soccer hiring decisions at all levels of the game. Good coach, but Waldrum would be just more of the same, and the same isn’t the answer. (PS I thought the US College system was part of the problem in with the US soccer development system, and then we blink and have former/current college coaches involved in key roles at U20, U23 and with Ellis? If Waldrum is next at the top spot, we might as well lobby FIFA for double-re-entry in the 2nd half and bring back Anson too!

  5. Seems to me that the teams’ winning attitude and determination should be it’s biggest personality. Riley’s “personality” would leave little room for team’s.

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