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?