CHICAGO — When Tom Sermanni shook hands with Pia Sundhage after her last game as coach of the U.S. women’s soccer team, he should have asked her for a few tips.
Sermanni was hired Tuesday to replace Sundhage, who led the Americans to back-to-back Olympic gold medals and their first World Cup final in 12 years. Sermanni has spent the last eight years as Australia’s coach, taking the Matildas to the quarterfinals of the last two Women’s World Cups.
“He has the knowledge, experience and vision to take on the challenge of keeping our team at the top of the world,” U.S.Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said in a statement. “He has a tremendous passion for the game, knows the American players, understands our system and knows the process of preparing a team for a World Cup tournament.”
Sermanni, a 58-year-old originally from Glasgow, Scotland, has spent much of the last 20 years in Australia, where he is credited with transforming the Matildas into one of the world’s top programs. In addition to their quarterfinal appearances at the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, the young Australians won the 2010 Asian Women’s Cup. Their runner-up finish at the same tournament in 2006 earned Sermanni Asian Football Confederation coach of the year honors.
The Australians are ninth in the world, matching their highest ranking.
Sermanni also coached Australia from 1994-97, leading the Matildas to their first appearance in a World Cup, the 1995 tournament in Sweden. He was among 10 candidates for FIFA’s 2011 Women’s Coach of the Year.
“U.S. Soccer has always been at the forefront of supporting the women’s game, and it’s exciting to coach the team in this next chapter of its history,” Sermanni said. “After coaching against many of these players for years, I am looking forward to working with an accomplished group of veterans while integrating the numerous talented young players who are itching for a chance to prove themselves.”
Sermanni was selected after a five-person search committee, which included Mia Hamm, considered more than 30 candidates. The current U.S. players said they didn’t care whether the new coach was male or female, American or foreign-born, so long as the right coach was selected.
“Someone who’s good enough, that’s all I care about,” Abby Wambach said. “Be the person who brings the World Cup back.”
Sundhage was 91-6-10 in her five years with the Americans, including a 23-1-1 record this year, and the U.S. was ranked No. 1 in the world for most of her tenure. She resigned Sept. 1 to return to her native Sweden, where she is now the women’s national team coach.
“We need a strong person to come in and add to the history that this team, specifically, has created in the last two years,” Wambach said. “… This team is scary good, and we need to have someone who can put all the Xs and Os together.”
Sermanni has experience coaching young players, which will be key as the U.S. begins integrating its next generation. Though veterans like Wambach, captain Christie Rampone and Shannon Boxx have all talked of playing through the 2015 World Cup in Canada, the next major tournament, there is plenty of depth and talent at the lower levels, too. The U-20 team just won the World Cup, and the U-23 team won both tournaments it played this year.
Sundhage had also begun changing the Americans’ style of play. As the game evolves and improves around the world, relying on the advantages it has in size, speed and power is no longer enough for the U.S. Sundhage introduced a Barcelona-style attack that relied on creativity and ball possession, and Sermanni will have to decide whether to continue that or not.
“I’m honored to have this opportunity to work with tremendous players and in a program that has had such a tradition of success,” he said.
Sermanni does not take over officially until Jan. 1. Interim coach Jill Ellis will lead the Americans in exhibitions against Ireland on Nov. 28 in Portland, Ore., and on Dec. 1 in Glendale, Ariz., as well as three games that have yet to be announced. Sermanni will observe the U.S. team during those final three games.
A midfielder, Sermanni played professionally from 1971-89 at clubs in Scotland, England, Australia and New Zealand, including Blackpool and Torquay, and scored more than 50 goals. He got into coaching soon after, and has had stints as both a men’s and women’s coach in Japan, the U.S. and Malaysia, in addition to Australia.