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.