Gulati: Sermanni firing not result of a player revolt, USWNT needed different direction
Tom Sermanni’s firing was the result of weeks of discussions and evaluations, not just unfavorable results at the Algarve Cup, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said in a conference call with reporters on Monday. He said he and CEO Dan Flynn had “some concerns” that the collective group wasn’t buying into Sermanni’s overall direction and philosophy.
Sermanni had an outstanding first year in charge in terms of his record, as the U.S. went undefeated with 13 wins and three draws in 2013. The new year has been much rockier for the Americans, as the U.S. failed to win a group game at the Algarve Cup before defeating North Korea, 3-0, in the seventh-place match.
“The standards for this team and for the program are very high,” Gulati said of the women’s national team coach’s dismissal, which came late Sunday night and just hours after a 2-0 win over China in Denver. “That doesn’t mean one loss or even two losses would necessitate or push us toward a change. … That may have brought some of the issues that were of concern to the forefront and gave them a public vehicle, in terms of the results, but this wasn't something that the entire process was over the last two weeks.”
Gulati quashed notions of a player revolt leading to Sermanni’s hiring while admitting that senior national team players are always consulted in matters of coaching changes, on both the men’s and women’s sides. Gulati and Flynn continued to discuss Sermanni’s future even through Sunday, until Gulati informed the coach after the U.S.’s match against China that he was being relieved of his duties.
“I’m not sure that anyone’s ever 100 percent sure on anything,” Gulati said. “It wasn’t based on yesterday’s game; I can certainly say that. … [A bigger win over China] wouldn’t have changed the underlying issues. It would have made the timing more awkward.”
The search for Sermanni’s successor has already begun, as Gulati said the federation has a short list of candidates already prepared. A hire could come anytime in the next few weeks, but U.S. Soccer certainly wants a decision to be made before the match against Canada scheduled for May 8 in Winnipeg, Man.
Interim head coach Jill Ellis, who removed herself from consideration before the process that led to Sermanni’s hiring two years ago, is still a candidate for the job. She guided the team to a 5-0-2 record in between the time Pia Sundhage left for her native Sweden and Sermanni assumed the role of her successor.
“Jill, I think, is a strong candidate for virtually any job in our program,” Gulati said. “We think very highly of Jill, I think it’s safe to say.”
Sermanni told SI.com on Sunday that he was “completely blindsided” by the decision, with which Gulati sympathized.
“We had one conversation between Algarve and now, so I certainly understand Tom’s comments on that,” Gulati said. “We had to make a decision without the luxury of a lot of time — I don’t mean a lot of time in the decision-making process, but in terms of where the team needs to be for October, and where it needs to be for next summer.”
The 2014 CONCACAF Women's Championship in October will determine the confederation’s three guaranteed spots at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada. In the 2010 Gold Cup, the U.S. needed to win the third-place match against Costa Rica to qualify for the 2011 World Cup.
This won’t be the first time the U.S. has needed to make a quick hire to fill the women’s head coaching role. Sundhage was hired in November 2007, just five months before the qualification tournament for the 2008 Summer Olympics, where the U.S. won a gold medal.
“There’s an immediacy, as there was when Pia came on,” Gulati said, “but the World Cup is 15 months away.”