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U.S. sends coach Pia Sundhage out with lots of goals – and lots of kinds words, too

Sep 20, 2012, 10:27 AM EDT

Australia v United States Getty Images

If Pia Sundhage was a double-Gold Medal winning soccer coach, she was more like a triple-Gold Medal winning motivator. Figuratively speaking, of course.

The women of the U.S. national team loved playing for her and thrived under Sundhage’s infectious enthusiasm. Her players are prone to use words like “joy” and “spirit” when they speak of the woman whose happy and peppy ways were a stark contrast to the more dour Greg Ryan, who left the position when things went fairly sideways in 2007.

Sundhage finished her time in charge of the national team Wednesday night, as players sent their master motivator out the right way with a resounding 6-2 win over Australia.

Not long before kickoff, ESPNW posted a piece from Tobin Heath, one of the players who grew and thrived under Sundhage. (Heath, in fact, embodies the very type of player Sundhage is encouraging the United States to cultivate as things move forward, a technically gifted sort whose performance relies more on skill and wits than speed and athleticism.)

A short excerpt from Heath’s kind words about the coach  who brought her along:

Pia always, always, looks at the positives in any situation, and that has been a huge key to our success. We have such high expectations — in every game and in every tournament we’re expected to win — and her outlook helps us to deal with the pressure, and push ourselves to another level. Her enthusiasm is so evident in everything she does. She gets so excited when a player does something well, and she has never lost that passion. It’s pretty cool she loves the game that much.”

Last night’s win at a sold-out Dicks Sporting Goods Park outside of Denver set the punctuation mark on a five-year run that included those two Olympic Gold medals and a second-place finish at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Sundhage, who will now take over the women’s national team in her native Sweden, was 91-6-10 as United States coach.

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