Pia Sundhage led the United States women to a runners-up finish at the 2011 World Cup and two Olympic gold medal, and many national team players were open about how much they enjoyed playing for her.
But the biggest criticism of Sundhage was her over-dependence on the same starting 11 throughout large stretches of her tenure between 2008 and 2012. Her lineup was her lineup, a stance easily defensible for the world’s No. 1 team. Sundhage’s tactics were oft-criticized by the public but none of that was ever echoed from within U.S. camp, publicly anyway.
Now a year into Tom Sermanni’s time as U.S. coach, forward Sydney Leroux revealed some of her frustrations with coming of the bench during the Sundhage era to Sports on Earth’s Noah Davis.
“No matter how well I played, no matter how many goals I scored off the bench, that was my role,” said Leroux, who Davis notes in the story said she liked Sundhage personally. “And that was it. You were never given anything. You were never rewarded. She knew. And that was it. There was no changing her mind.”
While the results were there, the play at times was disappointing by the United States’ standards, and it hit a low point in the fall of 2010, when the Americans struggled through World Cup qualifying and were the last team to book a ticket to Germany, beating Italy in a two-leg playoff.
Many players watched from the sidelines or from afar, hoping they would get a chance to right the ship. Leroux wasn’t fully in the U.S. mix at that point, but she did make her debut a few months later, on Jan. 21, 2011, with eyes on playing in the World Cup. Leroux didn’t make the 2011 World Cup squad, but was part of the 2012 Olympic championship side. (Notably, one year later it was Christen Press pushing for a roster spot at forward in the 2012 Olympics, but she watched from the stands as an alternate.)
Leroux scored a clinching quarterfinal goal against New Zealand in that tournament (you know, the one that produced that famous face of pure emotion) and has since increasingly pushed for more time on the field through her athletic play, scoring 10 goals for the U.S. in 2013, second only to Abby Wambach‘s 11.
Still, the challenges that Sermanni faces aren’t all that unlike Sundhage’s: How does he get everyone a just amount of minutes on the field, in a way that best helps the U.S. succeed? The short answer is that he can’t, but with Leroux and Press pushing Wambach and Alex Morgan for more playing time, there’s a healthy dose of competition up top for the Americans. Now Sermanni must figure out how to reward everyone.
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