WINNIPEG, Manitoba – Pia Sundhage couldn’t be any more the opposite of the team she once coached.
The United States national team has taken a no-distractions approach to the 2015 Women’s World Cup, dismissing endless questions regarding outside chatter, the latest of which was a series of quotes by Sundhage published in the New York Times on Tuesday.
Sundhage, who won two Olympic gold medals while coaching the U.S. women from 2008-2012, said in the article that U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd was “delicate,” adding that she would use Wambach as a substitute and called Hope Solo a challenge.
Asked about those comments on Thursday, the day before the United States and Sweden play a crucial World Cup match, Sundhage had to be reminded of what she said. The 55-year-old Swede said she gave the answers in April and they have nothing to do with Friday’s game, which could be as close as it gets to a must-win for Sweden.
Sundhage’s comments were interpreted as trash-talking, drawing national headlines in the United States. But Sundhage is a breath of fresh air, willing to speak her mind as a matter of honesty, not controversy. (Sundhage said on multiple occasions Thursday that she answered those questions and the one on the day in order to be polite. Asked what her future holds when her contract runs out in 2016, Sundhage said that is still to be determined, but she is always thinking ahead and she thinks almost in four-year cycles. “My contract ends in 2016 and most likely I will do something else,” she said.)
Once reminded of what she had said in April, a four-minute, 7-second monologue ensued some of her old players. It went as follows:
“If you look at Carli Lloyd, talk about favorite players. The reason I am sitting here is because the U.S. team. They made me look good. Three finals. And Carli Lloyd, she scored the winning goal in the Olympics, both times actually. The reason, you have to put yourself in that situation to talk about the future of the women’s game, and Carli Lloyd is a player like sometimes smarter than I am. That’s so interesting to see the message I’ve tried to give her and her role. Sometimes she thought about it and had some questions about it and she didn’t do what we were supposed to do. That’s exactly what coaching is about. That’s my job to make sure that she is a team player, and she was a team player and she scored a lot of goals. And I would say one of the most important players I’ve ever had. But I could bring up an example in the Swedish team as well. Some of the players are very challenging and those players, they create gold. Those players who always do exactly what I say, that’s not good. It’s good if some of them do, of course.
“When it comes to Abby, that’s another context, because if you look at Abby, she is special. She is special in many ways, especially with her heading. You can imagine, I think she can go another four years. And when I answered the question in the context of where you are the coach of the U.S. team and just ended the Olympic gold medal 2012, what would you have done? I would make sure that Abby will last forever and ever. And because she’s good in the air. So that’s why I said you have players starting the game and you have players ending the game and Abby is a player that will make the difference. So I would have that in the back of my pocket and then throw her in and win the game. Now, I don’t know the team today, but I saw the game against Australia and today, playing against Sweden, I would start her, because she is that good.
“When it comes to Hope Solo, she’s a piece of work. That’s good as well. Because it’s – things happen around her. As somebody told, sometimes outside the field. But when it comes to two times 45 minutes, she is the best goalkeeper in the world. So why wouldn’t you try to make her happy and at the same time have a team spirit? It’s a little bit of a bumpy road and the fact that I’m not the goalkeeper coach, so I don’t know how it is to stay in that goal and make great saves. That’s why I used my goalkeeper coaches. The same thing with Hedvig Lindahl. I really try to use coaches around me and when I’m not good enough and I can’t reach the player, I use the goalkeeper coach. I know how it is to play in the back. I know how it is to play in the midfield. I know how it is to play up top, so I have a little bit of a sense how it is out there on the field. I have no clue how it is as a goalkeeper. So that’s why I use people around me, coaches around me to get on Hope in this case, try to support her and hopefully she plays her best game ever during those five years. She did. Well, the reason we got the gold medal in 2008 is because of Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo. And Angela Hucles, I forgot her. But when it comes to Hope Solo, she is very important for the women’s game, when you look at her performance.”
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