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Pia Sundhage to Lead U.S. Women's National Team Through 2012 Olympics

CHICAGO (Dec. 15, 2008) – U.S. Soccer has re-signed Pia Sundhage as head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team for four more years. U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati announced the extension today. Sundhage, 48, has led the USA to a record setting 32 wins so far in 2008 (32-1-2), which includes the team’s memorable run to the Olympic title, culminating in the gold medal victory against Brazil in Beijing, China.

“Pia has demonstrated the qualities of a great leader, a great soccer tactician and she is a winner,” said Gulati. “We are extremely happy to have her on board for the next cycle of the Women’s World Cup and the Olympics and will be looking forward to seeing the Women’s National Team program grow under her direction for the next four years.”

Hired in November of 2007, Sundhage (pronounced Soond-hahg-Eh) went to work immediately, preparing the team for CONCACAF Olympic qualifying and the 2008 Olympic Games. The USA won all five tournaments it participated in during 2008, taking the Four Nations Tournament in China in January, the Algarve Cup in March in Portugal, the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Mexico in April, the Peace Queen Cup in South Korea in June and the Olympic Games in August.

At the Olympics, Sundhage’s team accomplished something never before done in U.S. history as it rebounded from a loss in the first game to earn the Olympic gold medal.

“We’ve done so many things in a short amount of time and been successful so far,” said Sundhage. “The reason it is so exciting to continue with this team is that I can see the potential. Last January, we started talking about keeping possession and finding the rhythm and I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far, but these next steps will be about going into the attacking third and being even more unpredictable, playing more beautiful soccer and scoring more goals. With this team spirit, the American culture, and the American way, we can make that happen in the coming years.”

Sundhage’s role as head coach of the WNT marked the continuation of a remarkable journey for the women’s soccer pioneer who played in the 1991 and 1995 Women’s World Cups, and the 1996 Olympics. When she was hired at the end of last year, Sundhage had never been a head coach at the full international level.

She captained the Swedish National Team for many years, playing 146 international games while scoring 71 goals, for years a record until recently surpassed by Sweden’s star forward Hanna Ljungberg. Sundhage debuted for Sweden at age 15 in 1975 against Finland and ended her 22-year international career at the 1996 Olympics in a win over Denmark. Sundhage led Sweden to the first European Women’s Championship in 1984, scoring the winning penalty kick against England to give her country its only European title. She also helped Sweden to two silver medal finishes and one bronze at the European Women’s Championships.

“It is very special to feel that you have support from the U.S. Soccer Federation,” said Sundhage. “If you look at the days we’ve been together this year and the resources we have had to travel and play games, we have been able to implement change. I feel the support in many ways and of course, that makes a big difference.”

Sundhage is preparing to lead the team into the final match of the year on the “Achieve Your Gold” Tour, taking on China on Dec. 17 at Ford Field in Detroit, Mich.

After the tour this fall, the U.S. team will have some time off before coming together in January to start preparing for the run to 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany. Of course, 2009 will also feature the start of Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS).

“It will be a bit different next year, but I think that is a good thing,” said Sundhage about the new women’s pro league. “Players will now have a coach in a club environment as well as the national team environment. They will get games every week and they will have to adjust their game because they will not have the same kinds of teammates as they do on the National Team. They will have different kinds of teammates and teammates from different countries. They will have to find a way to be successful.”

The new league will also give Sundhage the chance to see far more American players in a competitive environment.

“I am looking forward to next year,” said Sundhage. “It is important to find a few new players because it changes the environment a little bit. You represent your club during the week and when you are called up, you are a National Team player, and then you go back to your club so you don’t take anything for granted. It is important to perform at your club in order to be called into the National Team.”

The U.S. Women’s National Team is No. 1 in the world and has won five world championships – two Women’s World Cups and three Olympics -- and finished in the top three in all nine senior level women’s world championships staged by FIFA since the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991. The United States is the only team in the world to medal in every tournament.