Q & A with U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Tom Sermanni
In his four months on the job, U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Tom Sermanni has gotten the chance to coach eight matches in four countries while giving minutes to 27 players. As he embarks on a 19-day NWSL smorgasbord – beginning on May 1 that will take him to seven out of the eight venues (all except for Kansas City, where he has already seen two games), ussoccer.com sat down with the Glaswegian to get his “State of the WNT” thoughts after his first quarter at the helm of the world’s No. 1 team.
May 2, 2013
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ussoccer.com: You came into this job with a blank slate and open eyes. Now, after four months, can you talk about what you’ve learned?
Tom Sermanni: “I’ve learned that there is a great deal of depth in the squad. The group as expected has been highly competitive, motivated and professional. There’s also a great focus to win games and regardless of the starting lineup, you are very confident that the team is going to win. I’ve also learned that the perception of the U.S. team merely being about power and pace and motivation is a false premise. Though they all have those attributes, the actual footballing talent and the ability to play the game is extremely high.”
ussoccer.com: What has the team done well and what needs improvement?
TS: “I think they’ve adapted well to the things I’ve tried to bring into the game and some of the little changes we’ve tried to make tactically and in the style of play. I think they’ve done well in that they’ve adjusted to the way I’ve altered lineups and put out different starting 11s. They have responded very well to that and I know that can be difficult in a squad, especially with players that are used to starting games on a regular basis. But it’s important for me to look at all the players and give time in meaningful games to players that haven’t often started, such as the final of the Algarve Cup and the friendly game against Germany in Germany. Like most women’s teams, sometimes they have taken the changes I’ve tried to implement quite literally and we’ve had to go over things and readjust things slightly to balance the style of play we want to display with the necessities you have to bring to win a game when the whistle blows. Again, like any team, you are constantly looking for improvements in any areas, from a player’s individual performance to a team performance. We are always looking at ways for the coaching staff and the team to improve.”
ussoccer.com: You played against the USA many times from the opposite bench. What was your first experience like on the U.S. bench?
TS: “Playing against the U.S. on the opposing bench is a very tense experience because you know the quality of players you are coming up against and you are always worried about the outcome. In some ways, being on the U.S. bench has been a bit more relaxing, if relaxing is a word you can even use as a coach. I look out and see the likes of Megan Rapinoe, Alexx Morgan and Abby Wambach, to name just three, and it’s much more comforting than seeing them on the opposing team. I think that the confidence that this team exudes also makes its way to the bench so you always feel that they will go out there and do well. In most other international teams, you don’t necessarily have that confidence because you don’t know how consistent your team will be.”
ussoccer.com: Did you have goals for the first four months on the job, and were they accomplished?
TS: “I didn’t come in with any set goals. I think you’ve always got to come into a new job with an open mind and I’ve done that, so it’s really just been about getting to know the players, their qualities and their strengths. I’ve been getting to know what we can improve and getting to know the systems and the staff and how the team and U.S. Soccer operates. So the first few months were getting to know the job, and after this period of time, starting to institute how I want the team to play, and for sure getting a clearer appraisal of all the players.”
ussoccer.com: You come into the job just as the new National Women’s Soccer League is starting. What are your thoughts on the first few weekends of league play?
TS: “I’ve been very pleasantly surprised. Because of what happened in previous leagues, perhaps the expectations of the level of play for the NWSL weren’t as high, but the games so far have been of high standard and all the teams have tried to play good football. They’ve played open football and tried to win games. The competition has been very tough, as well, so my first impressions have been very positive.”
ussoccer.com: What are your thoughts on players playing different positions for their clubs than they play with the WNT?
TS: “That’s something that I take for granted and expect. Clubs have to look after themselves and play players where it’s most beneficial to them. The main responsibility of the clubs is not to play the player where I want them to play, and in some ways it doesn’t do any harm to play different positions and get that experience. So playing a different position is not something I worry about and it doesn’t concern me as long as the players are playing well.”
ussoccer.com: You have given five players their first caps since you were hired. How do you see the depth of the player pool right now?
TS: “The depth has been excellent. Some of the most intense and best matches have been in training sessions when we played 11-on-11. With most national teams or clubs, if you are playing a full-sided game, you can clearly distinguish the “A” and “B” teams, but that’s not the case with the USA. There’s a great deal of depth and a great competition for starting places. I think the five players who have made their debuts have come into the team and showed they belong in international football.”
ussoccer.com: Can you give an overall assessment of the performance of the younger players so far through your eight matches?
TS: “Generally, rather than individually, I think they’ve all come in and done extremely well. They’ve played with confidence and have shown high quality in their football ability. What has really stuck out to me is that I was given the impression that, often, when young players come into the National Team, they have found the environment intimidating and difficult to play in, but it’s been the total opposite. They’ve come in and been accepted by the senior players, played very well and thrived in the environment.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve gotten the chance to observe numerous youth national team trainings over the past few months. How do you see the progress of the U.S. YNTs, especially with five full-time staff now on board?
TS: “Being out on the field and seeing the depth at the youth level has been quite incredible to be honest. When I watch our Under-23s training the other day, most of those players could walk into most women’s national teams. The top goalkeepers in the U-20 squad are all 5-foot-10 or taller and most countries would give their right arm to have that, and that sort of athlete goes right down to the U-17s and younger. There is also a great mix as well, players with good technical skills, players with pace and players that can dribble, and that of course is paired with the American mentality. To see these things in place really bodes well for the future. The hiring of our full-time coaches on the youth level is a great initiative. Development is critical and the fact that these young players are getting more and more experience in a national team environment can only be a good thing. Having these young players experience high level coaching and training is going to be a huge asset down the line for the senior Women’s National Team.”
ussoccer.com: From a big picture perspective, what are your plans for the rest of the year?
TS: “It’s a balance between playing some international matches, intermingled with getting the main group into camps and working with them on the training field. We want to continue to work on how I’d like us to play going forward and continue to test the depth of the squad and continue to increase the competition within the team. We also want to perhaps consider some players who may come onto the radar that haven’t been on the national team. Saying that, it’s a tough challenge for any player to get into the national team given the depth and talent we already have. When I’m assessing national team players, they have to be evaluated in relation to the players currently on the squad who are performing very well.”
ussoccer.com: Abby Wambach is just three goals away from tying Mia Hamm as the world’s all-time leading scorer. What’s your perspective on #ChasingMia from the bench?
TS: “It’s obviously been out there because it’s been mentioned quite a bit, but records are always getting broken, and if someone is going to break Mia’s record, Abby is probably the best one to do it. In looking at Abby, she’s so calm and relaxed about it, you get no impression that she’s in a desperate rush but that she’s going to take it all in stride. I am sure she would like to get it done sooner than later, but she’ll do it when it happens and from a coaching perspective, it’s great to have a player like that who is so focused on the team and not individual accomplishments. Of course, it would be very apt if she broke the record at home so hopefully she does that.”