USWNT: Coaching Search Continues, Future of Pro League

posted by Sarah Hallett, a Women Talk Sports blogger
Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 1:40pm EDT

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October 11, 2012-The U.S. Women's National Team will be resuming their fan tribute tour next week when they host soccer powerhouse Germany in Chicago, IL on October 20 and also on October 23 in East Hartford, CT. It has been a highly successful tour that has taken the team from Rochester to L.A. and Denver as they have celebrated their gold medal victory from this past summer in London.

There will be one major change when the team lines up against 2nd ranked Germany in that the smiling face of Coach Pia Sundhage will not be on the sideline. She stepped down last month to move back home and take over her dream job as the Swedish National Team coach.

For the first time in five years U.S. Soccer is now tasked with appointing a new coach to take over a team that is ranked number one in the world and coming off of their third straight Olympic gold medal. The only blip in the past few years was a stunning overtime loss to Japan in the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2011.

Last week U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati gave an update on the search for a new coach and acknowledged that Jill Ellis will be taking over as the interim coach until the position is filled. Ellis has stated that she is not looking to fill the shoes on a permanent basis due to the time requirements. Ellis has served as an assistant coach under Sundhage and is currently the Youth Development Director. Ellis coached for twelve years as the head coach for the UCLA women's soccer team and also has experience as the coach for the U.S. Under-20 Women's National Team. More importantly she is someone the team is familiar with and should be able to work well with during the transition.

Gulati shared during his press conference that there have been nearly thirty applicants for the coveted job and that U.S. Soccer is currently undergoing interviews. The goal is to fill the post by the end of October but the search may go into November.

Besides ruling out Ellis for the job Gulati also stated that April Heinrichs has pulled her name from consideration. Heinrichs is a former national team player and coached the team from 2000-2005 compiling an 87-17-20 record.  She currently serves as the Technical Director. 

Gulati shared some insight on the advantages of an American coach versus an international coach and it appears that the committee might be leaning towards an American born coach.

“Without trying to figure out how to define the U.S. Soccer community, because it’s a very broad community, 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. 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. At same time, an international coach may bring a different perspective and be able to add things that an American coach doesn’t have. Especially on the women’s side, where we have a long history of success being at the top. If we can hire an American coach then that would be a great thing.”

Gulati also touched on the issue of a new women's professional league, which is still in development after the recent failure of the WPS. Gulati addressed the extent that U.S. Soccer might be involved in the new league.

"What we’re looking at is a different sort of participation than we’ve had in the past, which has primarily been as a sanctioning, regulatory body. There is every possibility that we would have a more active role in the management and funding of this league. What form that takes is still being discussed but a big part of our participation would be that the National Team players would play in this league and perhaps be funded directly by U.S. Soccer. Having said that, the overall support that U.S. Soccer provides for the National Team program is frankly beyond anything that happens around the world so we’re seeing if we can reshape some of that and add to that in the form of a league. I think we’ll have a pretty good handle on that in the next few weeks.”

Funding the U.S. WNT members would indeed take a burden off of whatever teams they play for, as these players will no doubt command the biggest salaries. It might also deter some players from seeking more lucrative contracts overseas in other professional leagues. For any professional league to be successful it needs the big names and if Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan and Hope Solo are playing abroad, then the league will most likely struggle. 

He mentioned the goal is to have "ten markets and eleven teams" with the new league launching next year. The odd number of teams is due to the fact that Seattle is currently looking to host two teams. [See Women's Soccer Battle Brewing in Seattle by Richard Farley]

However the cities and more importantly the funding are still being worked out. There have been meetings with potential investors and some are linked to Major League Soccer and some are not. This is an area that Gulati senses he cannot rush too quickly into due to the failings of the previous professional leagues. 

With no major tournaments in the near future for the U.S. WNT, the next few months provide an excellent window to iron out the details as their national tour continues. In what is expected to be a ten-city tour, additional games were recently added in Portland, OR on November 28 and in Glendale, AZ on December 1. Both games will be against Ireland. 

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