U.S. Soccer is inching closer to naming a Women’s National team successor, with the job apparently coming down to two people. Jill Ellis, the former UCLA head coach who, as U.S. development director, has served in an interim capacity after the departures of Pia Sundhage and Tom Sermanni, was considered the early favorite to slide into the role, but particularly after ESPN commentator Judy Foudy’s comments during the U.S.’s recent match with Canada, former Sundhage assistant Tony Gustavsson’s name as emerged as a co-favorite. Gustavsson is currently the head coach of UEFA Champions League finalist Tyresö.
Team captain Christie Rampone recently spoke to Soccerwire.com about the choice:
“In a perfect world we’d have both of them, but that’s up to U.S. Soccer and their names are floating around. But I don’t know who the top choices are,…”
“I think [Ellis has] done a great job of stepping in difficult situations with first Pia [Sundhage] leaving and taking over the victory tour and obviously now with Tom [Sermanni],” she siad (sic).
Ellis, who withdrew her name from consideration for the job before Sermanni’s hiring, told SoccerWire that her personal circumstances have changed such that she is now interested in the position. Though the new Swedish season has started, Gustavsson could be available after his team faces defending champion Wolfsburg in May 22’s UEFA Champions League final.
Beyond their technical qualifications, both coaches could be seen as continuity candidates. Where “culture” was a concern under Sermanni, both Ellis and Gustavsson are familiar enough with the team’s successes under Sundhage to return the team to its previous environment.
Whether that’s a good thing seems beside the point. Under Sundhage, continuity and attitude (as well as pure athleticism) made up for the team’s technical and tactical shortcomings, but the current Sweden boss was unique. It may be a mistake to assume a replacement familiar with her methods can inspire the same performances. At some point, the U.S. will need to bring in a coach that can add another dimension to the squad.
Early returns on Ellis’s ability to do so have been mixed. The team performed below its standards last week in Canada, while the call ups of Portland Thorns Allie Long and Nikki Marshall (who’ve been decent at the club level) hint U-level familiarity with national team staff is more important than recent club-level performance. A coach more willing to consider growth outside national team camps may get more out of the player pool.
Particularly as college goal-scoring midfielder Morgan Brian is being shoehorned into a defensive midfield role, the choice of Sermanni’s successor represents a litmus test for U.S. Soccer’s vision. If that vision is to revert to last cycle’s success, you can hardly blame the federation. Who doesn’t like winning gold medals? At some point, however, the U.S. has to evolve.