Apr 7, 2014, 7:46 PM EST
Tom Sermanni is as surprised as anyone by his dismissal from U.S. women’s soccer head coaching duties.
He was, after all, 18-2-4 in his 15-month tenure at the helm of the world’s No. 1 team. But results weren’t the heart of the issue, according to U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati. A difference in philosophies on where the team is headed ultimately cost the Scotsman his job, which is what caught him most off-guard.
“I wasn’t aware of any major issues around the place, and perhaps that was my lack of insight,” Sermanni told NBC Sports. “I don’t know; it wasn’t something that I had on the radar. I thought the team was headed in the right direction and we were building up a strong squad.”
Gulati, however, said U.S. Soccer “needed to go in a different direction.” The news was delivered shortly after the U.S. women defeated China 2-0 on Sunday in the first of two friendlies this week. It comes a month after the Americans saw their 43-game unbeaten streak snapped, and endured their first three-game winless streak in 13 years after an ugly display at the Algarve Cup.
But that tumultuous week in Portugal – which included a historic 5-3 loss to Denmark – wasn’t the problem, Gulati said Monday. There were “underlying issues” that were both stylistic and personality-driven.
Sermanni guided the team to an unbeaten 2013 record, but more importantly gave young players – and previously uncapped veterans – chances that they previously didn’t get. He was willing to make changes consistently and try new pairings and formations.
And ultimately, that could be what cost him his job.
“Change can cause discontent, generally, of course,” on an individual level, Gulati said.
He says that there was no player uprising nor one specific event that led to Sermanni’s firing, and reiterated praise for Sermanni’s upstanding character.
“This isn’t a group of players coming and seeking us out.”
The U.S. women excelled under former coach Pia Sundhage, whose greatest trait was managing a group of superstars and maintaining just enough collective chemistry to make them all gel. Gulati reiterated that Sermanni is a “class guy.”
Sundhage was a free spirit, and there was a perception that players, on the whole, admired her as more than a coach, but a friend. There was camaraderie and chemistry. Sermanni is laid back as well, but in his own way.
“Tom does have a unique style and Pia’s is very different,” Gulati said. “What I would say is the demand both of all of us for the women’s program, and in some way of the women’s team itself, fits very well with certain styles and not so well with, perhaps, other styles.
“But that’s also individual players. It’s rare that everyone in a particular team finds a style that they buy into, but it’s important that they collectively buy into the direction and how you are moving forward, and we had some concerns there.”
Somewhere along the line, though, the powers that be – Gulati, USSF CEO Dan Flynn, and at least some players – lost faith in Sermanni’s still-developing vision.
Sermanni’s implementation of new talent like 21-year-olds Crystal Dunn and Morgan Brian look like they will both pay immediate dividends at the 2015 World Cup and in several cycles to follow. One eye on winning now, one eye on development – that was the message when Sermanni was hired, and that was what, on the surface, he was doing.
“We wanted someone who could continue to guide the women’s national team at a high level and keep us at the right place internationally, which is right now at the top, and also to become involved in a broader scope on player development,” Gulati said on Oct. 31, 2012, when Sermanni was announced as the new U.S. coach.
Those comments came after a two-month search that involved over 30 qualified candidates.
Gulati on Monday didn’t deny that player development is always part of the job, regardless of who is coaching or when. The search for a new coach is already underway and could take several weeks or more. Just as she did when Sundhage left in 2012, Jill Ellis will serve as interim coach, starting Thursday when the U.S. plays China again in San Diego (11 p.m. ET, NBCSN & Live Extra).
Sermanni said he was previously unaware of any discontent among players, but he “would doubt if it was just solely Sunil” who made the decision to fire him.
“I stand to be corrected, but I’m an open communicator with players over the last 16 months or so, whether in individual meetings or casual meetings. I’ve certainly stated from Day 1 that if players did have any issues, whether they be soccer-related or other, that my door was always open.”
Players have been noticeably silent since the coaching change, with only goalkeeper Hope Solo tweeting a departing thank you to Sermanni as of Monday afternoon:
It's a somber day for us all today. Tom is simply a classy man in every way, and he will certainly be missed.
— Hope Solo (@hopesolo) April 7, 2014
ESPN’s Julie Foudy reports that players were instructed not to use social media to address the firing.
Seven or eight players visited Sermanni after the news dropped, the Scotsman said, and a few others sent emails.
The United States women’s program continues to be a paradox. “Win now” will always be a priority, and that’s how it is for any of the world’s best teams, male or female. The team’s No. 1 priority is to win the 2015 World Cup. That’s been the goal since the U.S. women walked off the field on July 17, 2011, after losing to Japan in the World Cup final. The Olympics, which the Americans have championed three consecutive times, pale in comparison to the World Cup.
But this is a team in transition, marked by a core group of veterans and a promising batch of early-20-somethings who continued to get looks under Sermanni.
When games kick off in Canada next summer, it will have been 16 years since the U.S. last won a World Cup. Yet this team, by however funny a system, has been ranked No. 1 in the world for the last six years.
Without a doubt, the recent small stretch of results raised concern for how 2015 would play out.
But struggles will happen within any team – “there are bumps in the road,” Sermanni reasoned Monday after a short few hours to sleep on the news – and they happen to even the best. That 2011 U.S. team was the last of 16 to qualify for the World Cup after lethargic performances throughout 2010 gave way to a qualifying mishap (Sundhage kept her job then, by the way).
Germany goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year and two-time World Cup winner, doesn’t make much of her American rivals’ recent struggles.
“The first eight teams in the world, they are so close, everybody can beat everybody — [it is] details that decide winning or losing,” Angerer said last week. “So the U.S. didn’t have a good tournament; in 2007 we finished in eighth place at the Algarve Cup and won the World Cup so it doesn’t matter.”
Sermanni is moving on graciously, returning to his home in Los Angeles to figure out what’s next. He calls himself a “philosophical person,” and says he’ll evaluate what he could have done better in his year and a half at the helm of the U.S.
“The reality of a head coaching career is that tomorrow you could be out of a job and there might never be another job that props up for you. This is the first time in 25 years that I’ve ever been let go from a job. It’s a new experience for me.”
What’s next for the U.S. women will be a highly-scrutinized 14-month build-up to the World Cup in Canada, under a yet-to-be-determined coach. Whether or not this decision pays off won’t be known until July 5, 2015 – the World Cup final in Vancouver. But the ramifications will resonate well beyond that, for better or worse.
Feb 1, 2015, 4:20 PM EST
The Southampton man has shown sympathy for his fellow striker, saying sometimes you have to play a little dirty.
Feb 1, 2015, 3:33 PM EST
Young Aymeric Laporte is a name we may see in the Premier League, if not this winter than possibly over the summer.
Feb 1, 2015, 3:02 PM EST
“So you know football better than me?” Buckle up, this one’s painful. Just Zlatan being Zlatan.
Feb 1, 2015, 2:16 PM EST
The American hasn’t been as prolific as last year, but he proved important today as AZ moved to fifth in the Eredivisie.
Feb 1, 2015, 1:37 PM EST
The 23-year-old has a pair of goals today to bookend Ghana’s quarterfinal win, and the second was spectacular.
Feb 1, 2015, 12:53 PM EST
A stunner from Jonjo Shelvey saw Swansea surprisingly through after a lackluster first hour.
Feb 1, 2015, 12:08 PM EST
Arsene Wenger felt the scoreline may not have reflected the true nature of the game, and that the second goal was the key one in breaking down the visitors to the Emirates earlier today.
Feb 1, 2015, 11:22 AM EST
A pair of first-half goals saw Celtic through to the Scottish League Cup final over rivals Rangers.
Feb 1, 2015, 10:39 AM EST
Southampton can jump right back into the top three with a win against a struggling Swansea side at home.
Feb 1, 2015, 10:21 AM EST
Olivier Giroud opened things up inside 10 minutes and it was a sign of things to come as Aston Villa slumped to 612 minutes without a league goal.
Feb 1, 2015, 9:03 AM EST
His ACL tear in the past, now a fresh injury concern has shelved the Dutch midfielder.
Feb 1, 2015, 7:44 AM EST
Mesut Ozil starts in the middle in place of injured Alexis Sanchez as Aston Villa comes to the Emirates.
Jan 31, 2015, 11:20 PM EST
Diego Costa has again claimed his own innocence. And you know what? I believe that he believes he’s done nothing wrong.
Jan 31, 2015, 10:43 PM EST
Big Sam was quick to take the credit away from Liverpool and place the blame for Saturday’s loss on his own injury “crisis.”
Jan 31, 2015, 9:24 PM EST
Van Gaal remembers what happened last time his side led Leicester, and he learns his lessons the first time.
Jan 31, 2015, 8:30 PM EST
All of the day’s confirmed, officially official transfer dealings from Saturday, Jan. 31.
Jan 31, 2015, 7:27 PM EST
The actual games took a backseat to shenanigans as two of four semifinals places were booked on Saturday.
Jan 31, 2015, 5:45 PM EST
All of Saturday’s action from Spain and Italy.
Jan 31, 2015, 4:57 PM EST
Arsenal and Southampton hope to keep their assaults on the Top Four in order, while Aston Villa and Swansea City hope to snap skids.
Jan 31, 2015, 4:19 PM EST
And to think, we’ve still a pair of Sunday matches on the slate. Let’s go through what’s done and dusted.
- Transfer Rumor Roundup: Spurs to snatch Laporte, Liverpool in for Reid 1
- Southampton 0-1 Swansea: Shelvey snatches win with sensational late strike 0
- Arsenal 5-0 Aston Villa: Gunners torch hapless Villa with deadly counters 0
- Diego Costa maintains his innocence, says “I’ve not done anything wrong” 4
- DONE DEAL: Seydou Doumbia to Roma headlines quiet Saturday for transfers 0
- Premier League Sunday preview: Top-half teams jockey for position 0