New U.S. women's coach 'demanding, patient'
UA assistant Sunderhaus has praise for incoming Nats coach
When the U.S. womens’ national team takes on Ireland in Glendale on Saturday, they will still be helmed by interim coach Jill Ellis, but fans can expect some changes in the new year.
At the end of October, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced the hiring of coach Tom Sermanni, a permanent replacement for Pia Sundhage, who coached the team to a victory at this year’s Olympic Games.
The Glasgow-born Sermanni comes with an impressive resume. He coached the Australia women’s national team, known as the Matildas, on two occasions, helping the team to victory at the 2010 Asian Football Confederation championship.
Sermanni will not be traveling with the team to Phoenix because he still has obligations to the Matildas.
University of Arizona women’s coccer Assistant Coach Danielle Sunderhaus worked with Sermanni during his time coaching the San Jose CyberRays of the Women’s United Soccer Association. She played for the team in 2002 after being drafted by them in the first round.
“He was awesome,” she said. “Always willing to come to practice early or stay late to work with us.”
As for his coaching style, Sunderhaus called Sermanni “patient.”
“He was very positive, but critical and demanding,” she said. “If you didn’t get it, he’d let you know.”
Sunderhaus also noted that Sermanni also had a joking streak. He’d give the players instructions in a purposely exaggerated Scottish brogue. None of the players would understand what he meant.
“It doesn’t matter what I say, just play the game,” he’d tell them afterward.
There are questions about what direction Sermanni will take the team. The team has remained regular gold medalists in the Olympics (they’ve only slipped to silver once since women’s soccer has been an Olympic sport), but the other coveted prize, a World Cup, has eluded them since the “golden generation” team won it in spectacular fashion thirteen years ago.
Sunderhaus believes that Sermanni has what it takes to rebuild the team. She points to his record in Australia. The Matildas first qualified for the World Cup in 1995 and were bounced out with only a single draw to show for it. They were later embarrassed in the 2000 Olympics when they had to make an early exit despite hosting the games.
Since his being put back at the helm in 2005, Sermanni has coached the team to strong showings at the Asian championships as well as two World Cup quarterfinals.
“He’s a program builder,” explained Sunderhaus.
Sunderhaus guesses that the first few games as coach will feature newer players, but only to see how they perform.
“He’s always willing to bring in younger players,” she said. “But he’s not going to push out experienced players.”
“We’ve been fortunate,” Sunderhaus said of the current line-up. “We have very talented players, and we can get away with athletic ability.”
It’s a refrain familiar to fans of both the men’s and the women’s teams. Teams can’t beat the U.S. on athleticism, but they have learned that they can on skill and the technical aspects of the game.
“It’s a huge strength that intimidates opponents, so you want to keep that,” said Sermanni in his press conference in October. “But 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…It’s a whole balance of those things, but still keeping the strengths that the team has at the moment.”
Sunderhaus says it more succinctly.
“Tom demands technical perfection.”