Tom Sermanni

More on the new U.S. Women’s National Team head coach

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Most fans are unfamiliar with Tom Sermanni, but given the nature of the women’s soccer world, all of U.S. Soccer’s potential hires were relative unknowns. Without a professional league on these shores, we don’t get the constant exposure that makes names for famous names on the men’s side. Who are the José Mourinho, Alex Ferguson, or even Dominic Kinnear of the women’s game? For most, the answer is “who knows?”

So don’t let Sermanni’s lack of name recognition deter you. Go onto your social networking site of choice, search around, and you’ll see a healthy amount of respect underscoring discussion of today’s appointment. Sermanni’s reported affability makes it hard for anybody to be too flummoxed by today’s decision.

Don’t underestimate the importance of personality. The U.S. women are a very unique group. That so many strong personalities are able to coexist is indicative of a potentially fragile balance (include obligatory 2007 reference here). Even if it’s not, this is a veteran team with a proven record of success. Having a personality that can promote continuity is a major plus.

Sermanni’s professional soccer life started as a midfielder in Scotland in 1973. He’d eventually have spells in England with Blackpool before ending his career in New Zealand. Soon after, his coaching career began.

Most of Sermanni’s experience has been in Oceania and Asia, initially coaching men in the North South Wales state league. In 1994, he got his first major coaching job when he began his first stint with Australia’s women’s national team. During his three-year spell with the Maltidas, Sermanni qualified Australia for their first World Cup, though the team lost all three games at China 1995 and failed to qualify for the 1996 Summer Olympics.

In 1997, Sermanni jumped back into the men’s game with Sanfrecce Hiroshima of the J-League before moving back to Australia in 1999 to manage the Canberra Cosmos of the now-defunct National Soccer League. He’d stay with the Cosmos until 2001, when he moved back into the women’s game.

That’s when Sermanni ventured to the United States to be part of the Women’s United Soccer Association, serving as an assistant coach with the San Jose CyberRays from 2001 to 2002. In 2003, Sermanni got the head coaching gig with the New York Power, leading the team to a fifth-place finish (after the team came in eighth the year before).

When WUSA folded in 2003, Sermanni briefly coached in Malaysia before starting his second spell with the Matildas in 2004. Australia had qualified for two World Cups in his absence but had yet to win a match in tournament. Now the team was about to make the jump from Oceania to the Asian confederation, where Japan, China, and Korea DPR would all provide significant challenges.

Australia was immediately competitive. Thanks in part to hosting the 2006 AFC Women’s Asian Cup, the Matildas took second place in their first Asian continental competition. Though they lost to China on penalty kicks in the final, they made their first impact on the continent with their semifinal victory over Japan. Four years later, Sermanni led the Matlidas to their first Asian title, defeating Korea DPR in 2010’s final.

Along the way, Australia started making progress in World Cups. When they showed up in 2007, Australia’s all-time record at finals was two draws, seven losses in nine games. The Maltidas only lost once in China, their 3-2 quarterfinal defeat to Brazil. Four years later, Sermanni’s team replicated the feat, making the quarterfinals before being eliminated by Sweden at Germany 2011.

That progress was about more than Sermanni’s senior level coaching. He was responsible for Australia’s entire women’s development effort, effectively serving as steward for all the talent coming into his senior team. When he returned to the head coach’s job, he sought to inject a more technical style into a team, a requirement in an Asian confederation known for that quality. The result was not only an extremely young team for Germany (average age: 21.7 years) but one that had begun shifting its approach.

It’s a the same type of shift the United States will have to undergo over the next three years. Sermanni instituted the change while Australia was stepping up in competition, yet he improved the team’s results. If the U.S. is going to start being a better possession team, Sermanni may be able to influence that change without sacrificing results.

As for how he’ll set up, there are some tendencies we see in Sermanni’s formations. He plays with four in defense, usually with two-woman midfields. For the most part, he’s played two forwards, one playing in support of the other. The numeric descriptions of the formations may change based on matchups, but those concepts – concepts we often see in the U.S. Women’s National Team – form the backbone.

His history may not be adorned with the type of major titles and lauded successes that could be linked to a job of this profile, and his name certainly doesn’t resonate, but that doesn’t matter. In a women’s coaching landscape devoid of Guardiolas and Capellos, Sermanni brings valuable experience to a team that’s going to have to change before Canada 2015. With a personality that’s unlikely to rock boats behind the scenes, he also represents a chance to maintain the team’s off-field balance.

AEK Athens beats Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) AEK Athens defeated Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0 in an ill-tempered game on Sunday that saw 12 yellow cards and two dismissals.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win of season ]

Astrit Ajdarevic scored the only goal in the 34th minute with a free kick that deflected off Olympiakos defender Manuel da Costa.

Olympiakos’ athletic director Francois Modesto was sent to the stands for protesting about the lead-up to AEK’s goal. His team’s central defender Alberto Botia was dismissed after a second yellow card in the 75th for pulling an advancing AEK forward’s jersey.

Despite the defeat, its second of the season, Olympiakos has a 10-point cushion over second-place Panionios, which beat 10-man Iraklis 1-0.

PAOK, a 4-0 winner over Veria, remains in third place, one point ahead of Panathinaikos, which beat Asteras 5-0 on Saturday. AEK is joint fifth with Xanthi.

PSG drops points against Toulouse days after massive UCL win

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 14:  Julian Draxler of Paris Saint-Germain looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and FC Barcelona at Parc des Princes on February 14, 2017 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Just days after its massive (and somewhat unexpected) beatdown of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain failed to close the gap on league leaders Monaco.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win ]

PSG settled for a 0-0 draw on Sunday at the Parc des Princes against eighth-place Toulouse, leaving the Parisian side three points behind Monaco through 26 rounds of action.

[ MORE: Bielsa returns to Ligue 1 with Lille ]

Despite holding the visitors to just three shots (one on target), Toulouse managed to contain a rampant PSG attack, which posted four goals midweek in their rout of the Blaugrana.

PSG’s first strong chance came in the 14th minute when Lucas Moura’s effort was saved in the bottom corner by goalkeeper Alban Lafont.

Meanwhile, Edinson Cavani may have had the game’s best opportunity to break the deadlock when the Uruguayan attacker struck the post from inside the penalty area.

Unai Emery’s group will be back in action on Feb. 26 when PSG travels to Dimitri Payet and Marseille.

Wenger worried over Sutton’s pitch heading Monday’s clash

SUTTON, GREATER LONDON - FEBRUARY 16:  Pundits Paul Merson (4L) and Matt Le Tissier (2L) take part in a training session alongside Paul Doswell manager of Sutton United (L) and players during a Sutton United FA Cup media day on February 16, 2017 at the Borough Sports Ground in Sutton, Greater London. Sutton United are due to face Arsenal in the Emirates FA Cup Fifth round on 20 February.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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The story of Monday’s encounter between Arsenal and fifth-division Sutton United will be whether the minnows can overcome the mighty Gunners.

[ MORE: Mourinho pleased with United’s “attitude” against Blackburn ]

However, Arsene Wenger already fears a bigger challenge within the game, one that concerns his players’ safety.

Sutton’s 5,000-seat Gander Green Lane features an artificial surface, which is largely uncommon for English and most European venues regardless of club standing.

“First of all the pitch. Secondly their enthusiasm. Thirdly that we are not ready mentally for a big fight and think subconsciously that it doesn’t matter,” Wenger said ahead of Monday’s FA Cup meeting in South London.

In preparation for their meeting with the U’s, Wenger had his side train on their own indoor artificial field on Friday.

“Look, ideally we would like to play on a normal pitch. Competition is as well to deal with what you face, and we’ll face an unusual pitch and we’ll have to deal with it,” he said.

“We practice inside [on Friday] because we have an artificial pitch. It’s not the same as it’s a dry pitch, and at Sutton I’ve heard that’s a wet pitch, they water it before the game. So it will be much quicker than what we have.”

Leipzig beats ‘Gladbach 2-1, cuts Bayern’s Bundesliga lead

Leipzig's scorer Willi Orban, center, and his teammates celebrate their side's 2nd goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between RB Leipzig and Hertha BSC Berlin in Leipzig, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
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BERLIN (AP) Leipzig held on for a 2-1 win at Borussia Moenchengladbach to cut Bayern Munich’s lead in the Bundesliga to five points on Sunday.

[ MORE: Messi rescues Barca, Pescara wins second Serie A match ]

Emil Forsberg scored one and set up another for the promoted side to end its two-game losing streak and stay on course for Champions League qualification with its 14th win of the season.

[ MORE: Bielsa makes Ligue 1 return, joins Lille as new manager ]

`Gladbach `keeper Yann Sommer pulled off a brilliant fingertip save to deny Marcel Sabitzer early on, but he was powerless to stop Forsberg from breaking the deadlock after half an hour played.

Sabitzer and Timo Werner played their way through the static `Gladbach defense and Werner laid the ball off for the Sweden midfielder to fire inside the bottom left corner.

The home side was given a lifeline when Marvin Compper brought down Lars Stindl and referee Felix Zwayer pointed to the spot, but Peter Gulacsi saved Thorgan Hazard‘s penalty before the break.

More poor defending allowed Werner grab the second 10 minutes after the break, firing inside the far post after Forsberg played him through.

Jannik Vestergaard pulled one back with a powerful header from a corner to set up an exciting finale. However, six minutes of injury time were not enough for an equalizer.

Leipzig had kicked off to a chorus of whistles from the home fans, who then mostly stayed silent till the 19th minute in protest against the visiting side. Huge banners in the north stand said “Traditional club since 1900” – an apparent protest against Leipzig, founded in 2009 when Austrian energy-drink billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz rebranded a fifth-tier team with his company’s livery before financing its steady promotion through the lower leagues.

COLOGNE 1, SCHALKE 1

Cologne stopped Schalke’s progress but the point was enough for the visiting side to overtake `Gladbach on goal difference in 10th.

Alessandro Schoepf got the visitors off to a flying start in the second minute with the help of the left post, and Leon Goretzka hit the post after half an hour with the home side still struggling to get into the game.

But Anthony Modeste equalized before the break with a fine strike inside the far post, and might even have scored again just minutes later, when his hesitation allowed Benedikt Hoewedes get back and clear.

Guido Burgstaller came closest to a winner for Schalke in the second half, his shot just wide of the far post after beating the goalkeeper.