Sundhage named U.S. women's coach
Pia Sundhage's immersion into U.S. culture introduced her to Americans' "Go for it" mentality.
But when it comes to soccer, her fellow Swedes' deliberateness might sometimes work best, the former international star said Tuesday after being hired as the U.S. women's national team coach.
American officials turned to a foreign coach for the first time after failing to win this year's World Cup. Sundhage, an assistant for China during the World Cup, is familiar with many of the U.S. players, having coached in the WUSA during the league's three-year existence.
She wants her new team to control the ball and dictate tempo more.
"It's very tight at the top level," Sundhage said. "I think it's about being comfortable with the ball. I don't think it's a big step, but a very important step."
The 47-year-old Sundhage (pronounced Soond-hahg-eh) replaces Greg Ryan. His surprising decision to switch goalies before the World Cup semifinals was followed by a lopsided loss, and his contract wasn't renewed.
Ryan was 45-1-9, with the lone loss resulting in the Americans failing to win his only major tournament. That reflects the talent -- and the expectations -- Sundhage inherits.
Her contract runs only through the 2008 Olympics, for which she will have fewer than nine months to prepare. U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said he hopes Sundhage remains the coach for a long time, but there was no sense in signing her past the Olympics because there won't be another major competition until the 2011 World Cup.
Sundhage plans to hold a minicamp in December. Her first games will come during the Four Nations tournament in China in January.
"We're quite confident that she's got the experience level and the knowledge of our American players and the setup here to do what needs to get done," Gulati said.
The hiring committee consisted of Gulati, U.S. Soccer secretary general Dan Flynn and retired star Mia Hamm. They didn't deem experience coaching in other countries a prerequisite, Gulati said.
"I think it's going to be a plus for us that she does bring -- I'm not going to say a different vision, but a different background, a different experience level," Gulati said.
Three previous U.S. coaches were born outside the country -- Mike Ryan (Ireland), Anson Dorrance (India) and Greg Ryan (Germany) -- but they were all schooled in American soccer.
The U.S. captain, Kristine Lilly, has firsthand knowledge of Sundhage's coaching style. She played for her on WUSA's Boston Breakers in 2003, when Sundhage earned the league's coach of the year honors after leading the team to its first playoff appearance.
Lilly called Sundhage's joy for the sport "contagious" and said the coach excelled at helping players understand the importance of mastering the little things.
"She's pretty open," Lilly said. "She's approachable. I think that's going to be good for the players. She's honest."
Sundhage indicated goalie Hope Solo would remain on the team. Solo was dismissed after ripping Ryan for replacing her with veteran Briana Scurry at the World Cup, though she was later added back to the roster.
"Hope is a good goalkeeper," Sundhage said.
Sundhage is so popular in her country that her image appeared on a postage stamp in the mid-1980s. The longtime Swedish captain played in 146 international games and scored 71 goals. In 2000, she finished sixth in voting for FIFA Women's Player of the Century.
Sundhage becomes the sixth coach in the U.S. team's history and the second woman. April Heinrichs led the squad from 2000-05 and won the 2004 Olympics.
Sundhage served as a scout for the United States during those Olympics. She was an assistant for WUSA's Philadelphia Charge in 2001 and 2002 before taking over the Breakers.
She said she believed that the Americans are technically sound enough to control the ball the way she hopes they will.
"It's about expectations," Sundhage said. "That's my experience."