Favorites emerging in U.S. Soccer’s quest to replace Pia Sundhage

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If you’re looking to get up to speed on Pia Sundhage’s potential replacements, you won’t get a better dossier than Lauren Barker’s post at Stars and Stripes FC. Of the five people who were interviewed last week, Barker profiles the three who seem to have the best chance of being the next U.S. Women’s National Team coach (though U.S. Soccer is doing a good job keeping the candidate).

Allow me to build on Lauren’s good work …

Right now, Notre Dame head coach Randy Waldrum appears to be the favorite. As Barker notes, if there was a line of succession to the role, it would be his turn. Three of Sundhage’s four predecessors had significant head coaching experience at the college level, where Waldrum’s been extremely successful. In this Anson Dorrance, North Carolina-dominated era of college soccer, Waldrum’s managed to win two national titles. Given U.S. women’s soccer’s dependence on the college game as its exclusive provider of talent, expertise with NCAA soccer is the significant advantage Waldrum has over most of his competition.

That competition is coming from Paul Riley, the former coach of the Philadelphia Independence. Though a favorite among those who watched his WPS teams, Riley was initially considered a long shot for the position. The England-born coach had vehemently spoken out against Pia Sundhage’s use of Amy Rodriguez, claiming the then-Independence forward’s confidence was destroyed by Sundhage’s handling of her at the 2011 World Cup. There, Sundhage benched Rodriguez, a long time (struggling) starter for the team, as the likes of Lauren Cheney, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath started getting more starts.

U.S. Soccer has apparently seen the outburst for what it was – a tactic designed to boost Rodriguez’s spirits. Riley may yet replace the coach he so ardently attacked.

During his two years in Women’s Professional Soccer, there was little doubt Riley was the league’s best coach. He won consecutive Coach of the Year awards while taking teams with inferior talent to back-to-back championship games (including in Philadelphia’s expansion year of 2010). He skillfully manages to be both demanding and a players’ coach, adding the tactical acumen to leverage his players’ work and trust. Most tellingly, Riley managed to take an array of different attackers (Tasha Kai, Veronica Boquete, Rodriguez) and turn them into weapons, hinting his plans were as influential as the players’ talents.

Unlike Waldrum, Riley doesn’t have an extensive college background. He started his coaching career at C.W. Post – a small Division II program in Long Island – but left in 1997. From there he went into the U.S. semi-pro ranks, initially coaching in the PDL before switching to the women’s game. Like Sundhage, he’s a foreign-born, has significant domestic experience, and manages to be a personality (a completely different one than Sundhage) without putting himself center stage.

Gulati, however, hinted last week that all things being equal, U.S. Soccer would prefer an American coach. Does Riley qualify? He’s been in the United States for 30 years, but he was born in England. To some, he might not be as American as the Texas-born Waldrum, but how much “American” do you need to qualify? At some point, you’re either American or you’re not.

(Trivia: Waldrum and Riley were born two days apart in 1961.)

Right now, it looks like Waldrum’s college success (along with his time coaching the U.S. Women’s U-20 National Team) have given him the inside track, but Riley’s close enough to be considered a co-favorite. Barring a last minute surge from the pack, one of these two will win the race.

Barker mentions one of those pack members: former national team coach Tony DiCicco, who most fans will know for his work as an ESPN analyst during the 2011 World Cup. More recently, he spent two disappointing years as head coach of the Boston Breakers, results overshadowed by his role in guiding the U.S. to first at the 1999 World Cup.

The major concern with DiCicco would be the change in approach to him from Sundhage. On a spectrum of styles, DiCicco’s would be far removed from Pia Sundhage, a head coach whose close relationship with her players was a unique combination of peer and parent – one inspiring deep loyalty. As we saw on ESPN’s set last summer (in the relationship between Brandi Chastain and her former coach), DiCicco’s style is closer to a traditional coach-player relationship. With a veteran team coming off five years of Sundhage, switching to DiCicco may prove too drastic.

Champions League preview: Spurs host Leipzig, Valencia visits Atalanta

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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties kickoff Wednesday, including one being labeled as the biggest in a club’s existence.

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That would be Serie A side Atalanta, which hosts Valencia at 3 p.m. at Gewiss Stadium.

Atalanta had played in two consecutive Europa Leagues, but this is their first move into the Champions League. To make the knockout rounds is exceptional, and club president Antonio Percassi is fired up.

“We must be honest, this is the most important game in the history of this club,” Percassi told Sky Sport Italia. “It doesn’t seem real. It’s exciting just thinking that tomorrow we’ll be in a Champions League Round of 16. It’s wonderful for our fans too. … This is going to be a unique experience that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.”

Atalanta finished second in its group to Manchester City, and is fourth in Serie A. Valencia won its group.

There’s a Premier League side in action on Wednesday, too, as Spurs begin life without Heung-Min Son.

Jose Mourinho spun a tale about how badly Tottenham will need its fans against RB Leipzig, comparing the home-field advantage to an emergency rescue crew of sorts.

Leipzig is led by Julian Nagelsmann, who was once referred to as “Baby Mourinho” by his players.

The 32-year-old was quick to distance himself from the story.

“Tomorrow it is Leipzig against Tottenham, not Mourinho v. Baby Mourinho,” he said. “I have great respect for Mourinho. He has won lots of titles with big clubs, the Champions League twice. He has made his mark on European football at some big European clubs. I think it his 59th knockout game in the CL and it is my first so there is obviously respect there.”

Liverpool’s Robertson not a fan of Atletico Madrid theatrics

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Liverpool fullback Andy Robertson was not impressed with Atletico Madrid’s display as his side fell 1-0 in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Reds fell behind on a fourth-minute Saul Niguez goal and couldn’t get a shot on target despite 73 percent possession in Spain.

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Atleti executed its plan to near-perfection, slowing restarts and taking advantage of counterattacking opportunities to assuage the constant pressure of Liverpool.

At times it was reminiscent of early-century Italian national team play, and both neutrals and Liverpool knew what they were in for once Atleti took the lead.

“We gave them the best possible start to get the fans behind them and then they can start falling over and things like that, trying to get under our skin a bit which I think we handled quite well to be honest,” Robertson told BT Sport. “We know we are better than (how they played). We put in a decent performance and we can be better than that. Luckily we have got a second leg to put it right.”

Given the performance and the reputation, you’d still fancy the Reds to “put it right” at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp thinks Atleti will feel plenty of pressure at Anfield, and he will certainly feel the officiating will be more to his liking.

Liverpool’s Klopp: ‘Our people will be ready’ for second leg at Anfield

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Jurgen Klopp didn’t have any issue with Diego Simeone’s defense-first Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Spanish side flummoxed Liverpool’s attack and the Reds didn’t manage a shot on target despite eight attempts and 73 percent possession at the Wanda Metropolitano.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

What Klopp didn’t appreciate was the referee’s work, though, implying that Polish official Szymon Marciniak was overwhelmed by the occasion. Marciniak has worked UCL matches for six seasons, twice overseeing quarterfinal ties.

Klopp was shown a yellow card in the second half, and the Liverpool boss felt Sadio Mane was harassed by Atleti. Klopp removed yellow-carrying Mane at halftime.

“He was targeted obviously,” Klopp said after the game. “The only thing they wanted was to make sure he got a yellow card. The score is 1-0, that’s all but you need to be really strong as a ref in this atmosphere. So many things happened, after 30 minutes already three players were on the ground. The first yellow card was a striker from us. I’m not sure they even got a yellow card, which is funny.”

Atleti’s Angel Correa was shown a yellow, while Klopp, Mane, and Joe Gomez were cautioned for Liverpool.

The Liverpool boss found himself laughing a few times, especially when he was asked about Simeone’s touchline personality.

Klopp said before the game that if the German was a four in intensity, then Simeone was a 12. Simeone followed suit by constantly urging the crowd to get behind the home side on Tuesday.

That didn’t bother Klopp, but he issued a public relations officer’s dream in reacting to it.

“Wow, wow,” he laughed. “That’s energy. I don’t think I have to do it that much (at Anfield). Our people will be ready. Welcome to Anfield. It’s not over yet.”

Klopp finished his remarks by saying of Jordan Henderson‘s removal from the game with a hamstring injury, “I hope it was a precaution, but I’m not 100 percent sure”

Haaland wins first leg after Borussia Dortmund-PSG comes to life late

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Erling Haaland scored twice in a mid-second half flurry as Borussia Dortmund beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The hosts also got an assist from teenager Giovanni Reyna, who became the youngest American to appear in a Champions League match.

Haaland now has 39 goals in 29 appearances between Red Bull Salzburg and BVB, 11 of those for his new German employer.

Neymar scored off a Kylian Mbappe goal for PSG, who brings an away goal back to the Parc des Princes for a March 11 second leg.

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Neymar had an early free kick, missing just wide of the far post.

Jadon Sancho troubled the keeper twice in the first half hour, first with a cross that Mats Hummels headed over goal. Then, Keylor Navas picked another Sancho offering out of the air.

Sancho kept serving, and Erling Haaland couldn’t turn a promising cross on target.

Dortmund walked into halftime with a scoreless match but a 7-2 edge in shot attempts. Neither of PSG’s shots were on target.

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Borussia Dortmund boss Lucien Favre put in American teen Giovani Reyna in the 67th minute.

Two minutes later, it was 1-0 to the hosts through Haaland’s close-range goal.

Neymar replied from close range himself after a powerful, clever dribble from Kylian Mbappe led to a pass through the box.

But Haaland got his second in the 77th minute with a scorching shot that serves as the first senior assist of Reyna’s senior career with Dortmund (Watch it here).