US SoccerUS Soccer

Quote Sheet: Gulati & Sundhage Comment on Naming of the new WNT Head Coach

U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati:
Opening Comments:
“Three weeks ago I outlined a process by which we would be selecting our next national team coach. Specifically, a committee that included Mia Hamm, Dan Flynn and myself. In the last few weeks we looked at approximately 10 candidates, most of whom were hand-picked, that had either reached out to us or we reached out to. From that group, we interviewed and talked to three in person. From that process we have selected Pia Sundhage to lead us in this next period.

“We had some terrific candidates and I think that Mia, Dan and I were all very pleased with a number of the candidates, especially those that we interviewed at the final stage. From that perspective, it was a good process because we had to make a difficult choice.

“Having said that, we made the best choice possible. Pia, as you all know, is an extraordinarily accomplished player, having played for Sweden many times and having played against some of our most senior players on numerous occasions. She’s coached some of our players in the WUSA, she’s played against some of them and she’s been a scout for our team during the Athens Olympics. So, she fits the two most important criteria I had outlined three weeks ago, mainly that she has experience at the highest possible level and that, in this case as both a player and a coach, she has a knowledge of the American game. In Pia’s case, it’s the former which is her greatest strength because she has only been in the U.S. for a few years, but we are quite confident that she has the experience level and the knowledge of our American players and the set-up here to do what needs to get done, especially in the short term, because that is the objective for the next year. Over the longer period of time, we have no doubt that she’ll pick up things that will be difficult. Maybe it’s not so much about thinking like an American, but knowing how some American players and American participants think. I think she has got that advantage. We’re really very pleased.

“There are going to be some areas where Pia, obviously in the very short term, is going to work straight away. She’s coming to the U.S. in roughly 10 days, will get to the NCAA Final Four. We had a call about 45 minutes ago with a majority of the Women’s National Team members that were in China, and outlined to them that Pia would like to hold a mini camp in December, which was not on the schedule, because she would like to get to know everyone as quickly as possible. And then, she’ll hit the ground running. She has already started working on her staff as well as some other programming issues.”

On Women’s National Team programming prior to the Olympics:
“What’s on the docket, and Pia certainly can adjust and will adjust some of this, is there’s a number of games in the first quarter because of the Four Nations cup in January, the Algarve in March, and right now we are led to believe that the CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament will be in February. So that’s as many as a dozen games in the first quarter that, with the exception of the CONCACAF Tournament, which is an official competition, are preparation games. Pia will have obviously a lot more flexibility post-those events, but she hasn’t really been able to jump into the full schedule issue and she’s made it clear to us that she’d like to review the whole thing in conjunction with her staff, which is also a priority for her.”

On how important it was to name a woman as head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team:
“In an ideal world, if everything was equal, I’d prefer to have a woman be our National Team coach. If everything was equal, I’d prefer to have someone who was fit for the U.S. game for 30 years, as well. But rarely are things always equal and so, in that case, we picked absolutely the best person in that Pia has both played the game and coached the game at a high level and has been very successful at it, which is more important than gender. That we’ve been able to hire a woman to lead the program is a big plus.”

On why Sundhage was hired on a one-year contract instead of a three- or four-year contract:
“In this case, three or four wouldn’t make a lot of sense to us because, three, obviously, would fall before the next important competition. So, what we have is a short-term objective, which is to qualify for, participate and hopefully win the gold medal at the Olympics. And then we have a break in the program, so it’s a natural time. What we have is an agreement that takes us through the year and then an arrangement which allows us to extend that for a number of years, in fact, more than two or three.”

On what Sundhage has to do to get that extension on her contact:
“There’s not a quantitative target and we will assess the whole thing, and frankly, she’ll assess how the experience has been for her. We want to see, over the next year, how the program develops, realizing full well that a number of things that someone like Pia brings to the table are long term. We’re not going to affect our style of play in a few weeks or in a few months, as she understands that the short term objective is success in Beijing, but that over the long term we want to impact, not just the Women’s National Team, but our Youth National Teams and, in fact, women’s and girls’ soccer across the country. That’s a longer-term project. We’re hoping, frankly, that she’s with us for a long time.”

On the future of the WNT Residency in Carson, Calif.:
“The residency is planned. Pia may want to shorten that or lengthen that, but the idea is that the residency program that we’ve had in place will be at The Home Depot Center, but the timing will be really up to Pia and what she wants to do.”

On the importance of Sundhage’s international experience in her being hired:
“It wasn’t a prerequisite, but it certainly is a plus when you get someone with that different background and different experience. In the final stages, two of the three people that we talked to had come up through the U.S. system, so Pia was the sole international coach in that sense. I think it’s a plus for us that she does bring a different background and different experience level. It wasn’t a criteria, but we wanted someone who did have international experience and that could have been someone here or abroad. It will be the first time we’ve had that in the women’s program.”

On his impressions of Sundhage and the message sent with this hire:
“In this process we talked to a number of the players, between (Secretary General) Dan (Flynn) and I we probably talked to seven or eight players leading into this decision. Indirectly or directly, I talked to well over half of the team and got their input. Their input wasn’t about individual candidates because a lot of our players don’t know Pia, and a number of players wouldn’t have known some of the other candidates. It wasn’t about sending a message other than we want to be successful so we’re going to hire the best possible person. I can tell you that the reaction of the players we’ve talked to since she was hired, both privately and collectively, has been very good. I can’t remember being involved in a search and selection process where we’ve had such universal support and acclaim for a candidate. That’s from players, coaches, FIFA staff, FIFA elected officials and people at the technical level. So, I’m not going to say it was easy because we had some excellent candidates, but Pia comes with extraordinary credentials and I think the message is that we want to win the gold in Beijing and get the program to higher levels.”

On opening the player pool:
“Pia decides who is coming into the camp. She may ask other people on her staff or some American-based coaches because, aside from the players who were in China and the players that she knows or sees in the next few weeks, it will be hard for her to do that. But, it’s completely up to her, and we’re still setting a date on a camp in December, so it’s possible that we have a camp that involves the players that were in China and another camp that involves new players, or some combination therein. That will be up to her, and the schedule.”

On Sundhage’s role with the Youth National Teams and developing the women’s game:
“Certainly in the short term Pia’s focus is very much on qualification and then Beijing. Even in that period, she’ll obviously be working with us in reviewing the women’s program in general but with a limited amount of time. For the longer period of time she may be more involved in that exactly the way Bob Bradley has been. We think it’s quite likely, parallel both to the men’s program and to the Women’s National Team, we’ll have a technical director or technical adviser that will be involved in a number of areas hand in hand with the coach.”

On if Sundhage’s experience coaching in China was a factor in her hiring:
“The only reason that came into play is obviously international experience, but it also came into play because she had to make a decision whether she was going to go back (to China) with the head coach and had decided not to. That wasn’t especially important in our analysis. So many of our players have been to China so many times for participation in World Championships as well as the Four Nations cup, so that wasn’t an important consideration.”

U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Pia Sundhage
Opening Comments:
“First of all I want to let you know that I am very, very happy and very excited. It is a unique moment for many of us in many respects. I feel that, and I like that feeling. For the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, it’s about this team and together I think we will create the environment that brings out the best performance in each other. We have to work as a team and show that we are the best again. In order to be successful, you need passion, inspiration, and like to be challenged. I know that I have a passion for the game. I will inspire the players and the coaching staff and I love the challenge. That’s why I love to be here, again, it is a great chance for me, a great opportunity and I will do my very, very best.”

On what programming she looks to put together before the Olympics:
“First, I have to give some time looking into that. I do think it’s important with competitive games which, if you look at Algarve Cup for instance, you have a lot of good games there, and to have a lot of time on the field. If you want to make a change, and adjust your attacking style a little bit, you have to be on the same page. But again, I want some time to look at it thoroughly and see what we can do before the Olympics.”

On if the U.S. should expect to win every tournament:
“The game itself has developed tremendously. If you look at the defending in the last 10 years, in ‘95 I played as a sweeper and in ’96 I still played as a sweeper in Sweden and the defending has developed tremendously. That means you have more teams, more countries that are looking for a gold medal. I think every year it will be harder to win the gold medal, which is great because that means the game will improve. So, it’s tight. Remember 2004, Brazil has a good game but the U.S. won the gold medal. Look at 2003, Sweden played a good game against Germany but they won the game. In the future everybody has to remind themselves that this is a wonderful game and the women’s game has improved a lot, so many teams, many countries can win the gold medal.”

On how much work needs to be done to get the U.S. team back to the top of women’s soccer:
“I’ve seen a couple of games, and as you know I was the assistant coach for the China team (during the 2007 Women’s World Cup). It’s very tight at the top level, and I think it’s about being comfortable with the ball and I don’t think that’s a big step but it’s a very important step. When you’re comfortable with the ball you can dictate the tempo. Nowadays, the defending is so good that you have to dictate the tempo; sometimes speed it up, sometimes slow it down. That’s something that we want to work on.”

On the perspective she brings with international experience:
“All of my education has been here in Sweden, and I’ve worked with different coaches. That kind of experience will be beneficial to me when I’m coaching the U.S. I’ve been scouting and watching the U.S. play other countries, and listening to coaches discuss how they want to beat the U.S. I think that’s a huge advantage for me. I’ve been around different kinds of coaches on three different continents and I think it’s a great experience because we have different issues. If you put the whole thing together, it’s great to have been around the game for so long in different places.”

On what needs improvement in the U.S. game:
“I’ve seen how the U.S. has performed, but I won’t know their abilities until I see them. I know that the American players are technical enough and fit enough to keep the ball. I think it’s about expectations. If you have high expectations, you can be successful. For example, the team is capable of keeping possession and finding the right moment to penetrate. The U.S. can be very successful this way, even playing against tough teams and organized teams. It’s about dictating the tempo; sometimes high tempo and sometimes low tempo. You have to expect that they want to keep the ball and to be comfortable with the ball.”

On opening up the player pool:
“I have not worked through the details yet to see what kind of players it could be, but the most important thing for me in this mini-camp is to be around some of the players at least so they get to know me and to actually move to the U.S. I’m eager to start work.”

On whether any current assistant coaches will be considered to stay on:
“Finding the people I have around me is a very important job for me because the coaching staff can make me look good. We do it together. Right now, I don’t have any names - I’ll have to wait a couple more days.”

On how she feels about having a one-year contract:
“I like the challenge, first of all. I think it’s a good idea to have the Olympics, and then it makes sense to see how that goes even though it’s a short amount of time. But still, from the very beginning of the first practice, the first game, you start to adjust the game a little bit with my coaching style. I think we can do it and improve the game, especially the attacking style, and win the gold medal. So, I’m fine with that. I think it’s fair.”

On whether there is a timetable for hiring assistant coaches:
“Of course I’m going to be looking around to see what kind of assistant coaches I could have. But it’s still in the process. I need some time before I have a yes or no from the persons I’ve been in contact with. I do want to tell you that it’s very important, the coaching staff. I can’t do this by myself. You have a team and the coaching staff is a team as well. The same thing, we bring out the best in each other as well. We need experts and I will try to find the best experts. You will have two assistant coaches and the goalkeeper coach for sure and support around that.”

On whether she has any reservations about calling in goalkeeper Hope Solo:
“First of all, I haven’t met the team yet. I think coaching is about communication. Of course, we will respect each other. Hope is a good goalkeeper and we have to move on. It’s important that everybody feels that the team is important and you treat every individual with respect. If I could communicate, I’m good at that, and I think that will be no problem. You talk to people and be yourself and sort it out. Hope is a good goalkeeper and that’s a good start.”

On whether all the players, including the veteran players, have to prove themselves to her:
“This is about leadership and to treat everybody with respect. I don’t want to go into how exactly how I would treat them because I haven’t met any of them yet. Just give me some time and I will tell you what kind of leadership that will be. What is important for me is communication and to treat everyone with respect. That, I think, will solve any kind of problem.”

On whether a player like Marta, of Brazil, can be found in the U.S., or if she could be created:
“It can be found, yes, absolutely. There are so many players in the U.S. so there might be a chance. I think it’s hard to create that kind of player. I think that’s a player that tries things herself and is very interested in soccer and she finds her own way. She’s unique. You had Michelle Akers in ’91, that’s another player. Mia Hamm being around forever, is another player. Yes, I’m absolutely sure there is that kind of player in the States.”

On importance of bringing in staff with experience with this group of players or with American players in general:
“It would be good to have an American, that’s for sure. The most important thing is that we are different. I think different qualities will bring out the best in the team, so if there is one who knows “the American way,” that will be very helpful for me, especially, and for the coaching staff.”

On the experience she earned coaching in the WUSA:
“It was a great experience with the Philadelphia Charge and the Boston Breakers. Working with Mark Krikorian was helpful. I had a chance to study the coaching style, the culture and the game. Going to Boston Breakers, I had just such a good time. What I learned from that is culture and communications. It is very important to reach the player where she is, and when you have different kinds of culture in front of you, in order to reach them you have to adjust the way you communicate. There is one thing in the American style and with the Boston Breakers: you’re brave. You try. You are not afraid of changes. If you convince them to do certain things, they go 100 percent. And that is a wonderful quality I think many American players have.”

Difference between American and Sweden soccer cultures:
“I would say ‘Just got for it,’ that expression. In Sweden we will probably try to talk through it, be a little bit more organized to be sure we do the right thing and not eager to go 1 v 1 for instance. And, what I found out in Boston, go for it, try it and you demand a lot of yourself. You do it in a group in Sweden in terms of organization, and I think that is a little bit different from the American way.”

On her overall involvement in the development of women’s soccer in the USA:
“First of all, I have to come to the country and field a team. My experience in Sweden is that it’s very important that you look through from the young players, and first of all the grassroots, where you need to make it fun so that you come back to play soccer. That’s the most important thing. Then, of course, if you look at the programs for youth players it is important. We have seen that in Sweden and if you start something and you have a message that will influence the whole program and that will make the full team a great team. Development is very important in order to be successful in the long term.”

On her impressions of the U.S. team:
“Coaching is hard to tell, but if you look at the team, everybody admires some of the Americans’ style. They are very tough to beat. They go out there and do their very best every time and when I played against them they are some strong, skillful players. It’s a winning style. What has happened with the women’s soccer nowadays, it’s improved a lot. It’s harder to win today than it was 15 years ago because there are so many countries that put a lot of money in the programs. The American style for me is ‘Go for it,’ and that is good, but it also has to add something like I said before, just to dictate the tempo.”

On the experience she gained as the assistant coach for China during 2007:
“That’s another experience and I would say I learned most about communication. I don’t speak Chinese and in order to reach the players I improved my body language. That’s something I will bring to this job and make sure it is good body language. I breathe the Chinese soccer style and that is good to know when we meet them.”