Tom Sermanni was shocked by his firing as USWNT coach. (AP)

Gulati: Sermanni’s firing based on ‘underlying issues,’ but questions remain

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Tom Sermanni is as surprised as anyone by his dismissal from U.S. women’s soccer head coaching duties.

He was, after all, 18-2-4 in his 15-month tenure at the helm of the world’s No. 1 team. But results weren’t the heart of the issue, according to U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati. A difference in philosophies on where the team is headed ultimately cost the Scotsman his job, which is what caught him most off-guard.

“I wasn’t aware of any major issues around the place, and perhaps that was my lack of insight,” Sermanni told NBC Sports. “I don’t know; it wasn’t something that I had on the radar. I thought the team was headed in the right direction and we were building up a strong squad.”

Gulati, however, said U.S. Soccer “needed to go in a different direction.” The news was delivered shortly after the U.S. women defeated China 2-0 on Sunday in the first of two friendlies this week. It comes a month after the Americans saw their 43-game unbeaten streak snapped, and endured their first three-game winless streak in 13 years after an ugly display at the Algarve Cup.

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Tom Sermanni had no idea he was even on the hot seat. (Getty Images)

But that tumultuous week in Portugal – which included a historic 5-3 loss to Denmark – wasn’t the problem, Gulati said Monday. There were “underlying issues” that were both stylistic and personality-driven.

Sermanni guided the team to an unbeaten 2013 record, but more importantly gave young players – and previously uncapped veterans – chances that they previously didn’t get. He was willing to make changes consistently and try new pairings and formations.

And ultimately, that could be what cost him his job.

“Change can cause discontent, generally, of course,” on an individual level, Gulati said.

He says that there was no player uprising nor one specific event that led to Sermanni’s firing, and reiterated praise for Sermanni’s upstanding character.

“This isn’t a group of players coming and seeking us out.”

The U.S. women excelled under former coach Pia Sundhage, whose greatest trait was managing a group of superstars and maintaining just enough collective chemistry to make them all gel. Gulati reiterated that Sermanni is a “class guy.”

Sundhage was a free spirit, and there was a perception that players, on the whole, admired her as more than a coach, but a friend. There was camaraderie and chemistry. Sermanni is laid back as well, but in his own way.

“Tom does have a unique style and Pia’s is very different,” Gulati said. “What I would say is the demand both of all of us for the women’s program, and in some way of the women’s team itself, fits very well with certain styles and not so well with, perhaps, other styles.

“But that’s also individual players. It’s rare that everyone in a particular team finds a style that they buy into, but it’s important that they collectively buy into the direction and how you are moving forward, and we had some concerns there.”

Somewhere along the line, though, the powers that be – Gulati, USSF CEO Dan Flynn, and at least some players – lost faith in Sermanni’s still-developing vision.

Sermanni’s implementation of new talent like 21-year-olds Crystal Dunn and Morgan Brian look like they will both pay immediate dividends at the 2015 World Cup and in several cycles to follow. One eye on winning now, one eye on development – that was the message when Sermanni was hired, and that was what, on the surface, he was doing.

“We wanted someone who could continue to guide the women’s national team at a high level and keep us at the right place internationally, which is right now at the top, and also to become involved in a broader scope on player development,” Gulati said on Oct. 31, 2012, when Sermanni was announced as the new U.S. coach.

Those comments came after a two-month search that involved over 30 qualified candidates.

Gulati on Monday didn’t deny that player development is always part of the job, regardless of who is coaching or when. The search for a new coach is already underway and could take several weeks or more. Just as she did when Sundhage left in 2012, Jill Ellis will serve as interim coach, starting Thursday when the U.S. plays China again in San Diego (11 p.m. ET, NBCSN & Live Extra).

Sermanni said he was previously unaware of any discontent among players, but he “would doubt if it was just solely Sunil” who made the decision to fire him.

“I stand to be corrected, but I’m an open communicator with players over the last 16 months or so, whether in individual meetings or casual meetings. I’ve certainly stated from Day 1 that if players did have any issues, whether they be soccer-related or other, that my door was always open.”

Players have been noticeably silent since the coaching change, with only goalkeeper Hope Solo tweeting a departing thank you to Sermanni as of Monday afternoon:

ESPN’s Julie Foudy reports that players were instructed not to use social media to address the firing.

Seven or eight players visited Sermanni after the news dropped, the Scotsman said, and a few others sent emails.

The United States women’s program continues to be a paradox. “Win now” will always be a priority, and that’s how it is for any of the world’s best teams, male or female. The team’s No. 1 priority is to win the 2015 World Cup. That’s been the goal since the U.S. women walked off the field on July 17, 2011, after losing to Japan in the World Cup final. The Olympics, which the Americans have championed three consecutive times, pale in comparison to the World Cup.

But this is a team in transition, marked by a core group of veterans and a promising batch of early-20-somethings who continued to get looks under Sermanni.

source: Getty Images
Tom Sermanni talks to Jill Ellis, who will serve as interim USWNT coach. Could she take over permanently? (Getty Images)

When games kick off in Canada next summer, it will have been 16 years since the U.S. last won a World Cup.  Yet this team, by however funny a system, has been ranked No. 1 in the world for the last six years.

Without a doubt, the recent small stretch of results raised concern for how 2015 would play out.

But struggles will happen within any team – “there are bumps in the road,” Sermanni reasoned Monday after a short few hours to sleep on the news – and they happen to even the best. That 2011 U.S. team was the last of 16 to qualify for the World Cup after lethargic performances throughout 2010 gave way to a qualifying mishap (Sundhage kept her job then, by the way).

Germany goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year and two-time World Cup winner, doesn’t make much of her American rivals’ recent struggles.

“The first eight teams in the world, they are so close, everybody can beat everybody — [it is] details that decide winning or losing,” Angerer said last week. “So the U.S. didn’t have a good tournament; in 2007 we finished in eighth place at the Algarve Cup and won the World Cup so it doesn’t matter.”

Sermanni is moving on graciously, returning to his home in Los Angeles to figure out what’s next. He calls himself a “philosophical person,” and says he’ll evaluate what he could have done better in his year and a half at the helm of the U.S.

“The reality of a head coaching career is that tomorrow you could be out of a job and there might never be another job that props up for you. This is the first time in 25 years that I’ve ever been let go from a job. It’s a new experience for me.”

What’s next for the U.S. women will be a highly-scrutinized 14-month build-up to the World Cup in Canada, under a yet-to-be-determined coach. Whether or not this decision pays off won’t be known until July 5, 2015 – the World Cup final in Vancouver. But the ramifications will resonate well beyond that, for better or worse.

Has Pep Guardiola’s tenure at Bayern Munich been a failure?

BEIJING, CHINA - JULY 17:  Head coach Pep Guardiola of Bayern looks on during the a press conference at National Stadium in day 1 of the FC Bayern Audi China Summer Pre-Season Tour on July 17, 2015 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Pep Guardiola could have seven trophies from his three seasons at Bayern Munich when he leaves the club this summer.

Guardiola has won two Bundesliga titles, a German Cup, UEFA Super Cup, and FIFA Club World Cup since taking over the Bavarian club in 2013. Bayern are in line to win another Bundesliga title in a few weeks time, and face Borussia Dortmund in another German Cup final.

However, when you take a look at all those honors, one is missing: The UEFA Champions League.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

After being bounced by Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semifinal on Tuesday, Guardiola will leave Bayern without the one trophy he wanted most.

In three seasons under Pep, Bayern has been eliminated in the UCL semifinal each year. Each year it was to Spanish opposition, losing to Real Madrid (2014), Barcelona (2015), and Atleti (2016).

While reaching the Champions League semifinal is a great achievement for most clubs, it is a step back for Bayern. In 2013, just weeks before Guardiola was appointed boss, Bayern won the Champions League. They also reached the final in 2010 and 2012 before that.

[ MORE: Game-by-game look at Leicester City’s title-winning season ]

Pep won the Champions League twice in four seasons in charge at Barcelona, and he was expected to do the same in Germany. After three UCL finals appearances in four seasons before Guardiola and none under the Spaniard, it’s hard to argue his time with Bayern has been a success.

Yes, Guardiola will likely leave Munich with three Bundesliga titles, a mark of domestic dominance during his time at the Allianz Arena. However, Bayern had already won the league 22 times before Pep, as he was not brought there for Bundesliga success.

Simply put, Guardiola came to a Bayern team that was the best in Europe, and he will leave a Bayern team that is just the best in Germany.

Bayern Munich 2-1 (2-2, agg.) Atletico Madrid: Griezmann’s away goal sends Atleti to Milan

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 13:  Antoine Griezmann (R) of Atletico de Madrid celebrates their victory with teammate Koke (L) during the UEFA Champions League quarter final, second leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Barcelona at the Vincente Calderon on April 13, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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  • Alonso, Lewandowski score for Bayern
  • Thomas Muller has penalty stopped
  • Griezmann’s goal sends Atleti through 

Despite losing the match and finishing tied on aggregate, Atletico Madrid are headed to their second Champions League final in three years as Diego Simeone’s men advance past Bayern Munich on away goals. It is the third straight season in which Bayern has been eliminated from in the semifinal.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

Bayern expectedly dominated possession from the start of the match, continuously pushing into Atleti territory. The Atletico back-line was stretched out of shape multiple times in the first half, a rare sight from Europe’s best defense, especially surprising with Diego Godin back in the starting lineup.

After a few stops from Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak, Bayern finally found a goal just after the half-hour mark. With a free kick from 20 yards out, Xabi Alonso stepped up and fired a low shot on goal. Alonso’s shot deflected off Jose Jimenez, skipping through the young center-back’s legs and leaving Oblak helpless, ending Atleti’s impressive run of defensive dominance.

Jose Jimenez nearly cost Atletico again just minutes later when he was called for a foul on Javi Martinez in the box, giving a penalty to Bayern. Thomas Muller tried to give his side their first lead of the semifinal, but Oblak guessed correctly and made a huge stop to keep the tie level on aggregate.

As the match headed towards halftime, managers Pep Guardiola and Diego Simeone began to have some words on the touchline. Simeone had to be held back from Bayern’s Franck Ribery, although tempers cooled down and no discipline from the referee was necessary.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

Bayern continued to control play after the break, but it was the visitors who found the second half’s first goal. Against all the run of play, Fernando Torres caught Bayern on the counter, sending Antoine Griezmann in on goal all alone. Griezmann buried his shot past Manuel Neuer to put Atleti back ahead on aggregate 2-1. It was Griezmann’s seventh Champions League goal and 31st in all competitions this season.

With Griezmann’s away goal, Bayern needed to score two more without conceding to reach the final. Despite the uphill battle, Pep’s men pushed on and got a response in the 74th minute. A high cross from David Alaba was headed back across the box from Arturo Vidal, where Robert Lewandowski was waiting for an easy tap home. Up 2-1 on the night but tied 2-2 on aggregate, Bayern had 20 minutes to find that decisive goal.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

While Bayern pressed, Atletico had a golden opportunity to finish the match when Fernando Torres earned the game’s second penalty. Torres was taken down from behind by Javi Martinez, and although replays showed the contact was initiated just outside the box, a penalty was given. Torres went to finish what he started, but once again the keeper prevailed as Manuel Neuer made a strong save to deny the Spaniard.

Guardiola urged his side on through the final minutes, but Atletico withstood the pressure to advance on away goals. Diego Simeone’s side has now eliminated Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, as Atleti can no longer be considered underdogs.

Burnley boss Sean Dyche ready for PL after “business-like” promotion

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - APRIL 19:  Sean Dyche the manager of Burnley applauds the home fans during the Sky Bet Championship match between Burnley and Middlesbrough at Turf Moor on April 19, 2016 in Burnley, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Burnley Football Club is headed back up to the Premier League after one season down in the Championship.

After being relegated from the top flight in 2015, the Clarets roared back with a dominant campaign in the Championship, securing automatic promotion with one match to play.

[ VIDEO: Ranieri’s best moments ]

Heading into his second stint in the Premier League, Burnley boss Sean Dyche said there is a different feeling this time around after a “business-like” season at Turf Moor.

The expectation rises from everyone, the money available to the club for its future – all of the things that it brings.

The mentality of the players has been firm all year. We were questioned heavily around Christmas, but I never blinked.

I knew what we were about, I knew the group we’d got, I knew the mentality and I knew we could go all the way.

Last time we were under the radar, it was a fairytale. This one was organized, it was business-like and it was well-fashioned from all involved, especially the players.

If Burnley was questioned at Christmas, they certainly had an answer. After losing to Hull City on Boxing Day, the Clarets have gone unbeaten in 22 matches to climb to the top of the Championship table.

[ MORE: Fellaini, Huth charged by FA after hair-pulling incident ]

Burnley’s campaign this season has been eerily similar to their last promotion to the PL after the 2013-14 season. If the Clarets win their final game next weekend, they will finish with an identical record from 2014 of 26-15-5, good for 93 points. Dyche’s next job will be keeping Burnley up, as they have been relegated after each of their previous three seasons in the top flight.

UCL FOLLOW LIVE: Lineups as Atleti looks to advance past Bayern

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27:  UEFA  Champions League trophy is seen ahead of the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Atletico Madrid heads into the Allianz Arena’s hornets’ nest with a 1-0 advantage and hopes for another UEFA Champions League final.

Diego Simeone’s La Liga powers will look to keep its advantage over Bayern Munich, in turn booting Pep Guardiola into Manchester without a UCL title in Germany.

To follow live, click here.

LINEUPS

Bayern Munich: Neuer; Alaba, Boateng, Martinez, Ribéry, Lewandowski, Costa, Alonso, Lahm, Vidal, Müller. Subs: Ulreich, Tasci, Thiago, Rafinha, Götze, Coman, Kimmich.

Atletico Madrid: Oblak, Juanfran, Godin, Gimenez, Luis; Gabi, Augusto, Koke, Saul; Griezmann, Torres. Subs: Moya, Savic, Lucas, Thomas, Carrasco, Correa, Vietto.