Tony Gustavsson, former head coach candidate, joins Jill Ellis’s U.S. Women’s National Team staff

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In a move that had been quietly rumored since Jill Ellis’s appointment, Tyresö FF head coach Tony Gustavsson — a candidate for the permanent head coaching position vacated by Tom Sermanni’s firing — will join the U.S. Women’s National Team staff, resuming the full-time assistant’s position he held under Pia Sundhage. Scheduled to join the team for June’s friendlies against France, the 40-year-old Gustavsson becomes the latest part of the U.S.’s attempt to turn back the clock, with the former Hammarby IF men’s head coach having sat on Sundhage’s bench during the States’ 2012 gold medal run.

Gustavsson is coming off a two-year stretch as head coach of Tyresö, where he won the Damallsvenskan title before taking his team to last Thursday’s UEFA Champions League final. Despite that success, which saw the Swedish club come within one goal of eventually champions Wolfsburg, Gustavsson’s departure is part of an expected exodus from the financially-embattled club.

“Tony will be an excellent addition to our coaching staff,” Jill Ellis said, in an announcement distributed by U.S. Soccer. “We have worked together before and I am delighted to have him come on board as we move toward Women’s World Cup qualifying.”

Gustavsson was a prime candidate to for the job Ellis now holds, though as an assistant coach, he will be able to contribute without the overarching commitment that comes with the head coach’s role.

“I’m really looking forward to being back with the U.S. team again,” Gustavsson said, via U.S. Soccer. “I have great respect for these players, their work ethic and their desire to keep progressing as individuals and as a team. I’m excited to contribute to that process through any role Jill asks of me.”

Expect that role to be a big one. Gustavsson’s strengths on the training field and in preparing for opponents are well-respected, as are his accomplishments with Tyresö. Working under a boss that is short on senior-level coaching experience, Gustavsson is likely to play a key role, particularly since his knowledge of nations like Sweden, Germany and other European threats likely exceeds any other candidate.

Before Ellis’s hiring, team captain Christie Rampone said she wanted both Ellis and Gustavsson. What the captain wants, the captain gets. Given his history with the team and recent accomplishment, Gustavsson could become a head coach-like figure on the team, with Ellis playing more of a final say, manager’s part.

Ellis or Gustavsson? U.S. captain says perfect world would see both on national team staff

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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.