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The search for the next USWNT coach narrows

USWNT veteran Becky Sauerbrunn says she’s excited for “new ideas,” but feels a new coach must also respect existing qualities of the team

Photo: Ane Frosaker / SPP

U.S. Soccer appears to be on track with its plan to hire a new head coach of the United States women’s national team by late November.

Speaking to media on Monday, U.S. veteran defender Becky Sauerbrunn said federation leadership has kept her updated on the process, including that the they are getting closer to making a hire.

“I don’t know names of candidates or anything like that,” Sauerbrunn said. “But I was aware of when candidates were being flown in for interviews and that sort of thing and knowing that we’re getting close. I think that they’ve got a few candidates that they’re very excited about.”

Asked for further comment, a U.S. Soccer spokesperson said that the federation is still in the “narrowing process” with candidates. The search is being led by new U.S. Soccer sporting director Matt Crocker, who was hired on April 25.

The U.S. women have been without a coach since Vlatko Andonovski resigned in mid-August. Andonovski, who on Monday was announced as the new head coach of the National Women’s Soccer League’s Kansas City Current, oversaw the team for four years, including a Round-of-16 elimination at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the team’s worst showing at a major tournament.

Since then, Crocker has been looking for the team’s next coach. The process, Crocker has said, mirrors the one used in the spring for the U.S. men’s national team. Ultimately, that process led to Crocker re-hiring Gregg Berhalter, who coached the U.S. men from 2018 through the 2022 World Cup before his contract lapsed (amid considerable turmoil).

Crocker’s long list for the U.S. women’s job started with several dozen candidates and is believed to be down to a handful. Who is on that list remains unclear, with several obvious candidates seemingly content with their current jobs.

‘What’ could prove to be as important as ‘who’ regarding the next hire. The U.S. women are in a rare moment of overhaul. A run of three straight Olympic gold medals in 2004, 2008 and 2012, followed by back-to-back World Cup titles in 2015 and 2019, meant that coaching transitions have largely happened under more amicable circumstances (the unceremonious 2014 mutiny of Tom Sermanni notwithstanding).  

Not since late 2007 has the U.S. been in this position. Greg Ryan had just been fired as head coach after the United States’ third-place finish at the 2007 World Cup, where he benched starting goalkeeper Hope Solo in favor of veteran Briana Scurry for the semifinal that the U.S. eventually lost to Brazil, 4-0. Solo spoke out against the decision after the game, causing a rift that saw her ostracized from the team at the time. The U.S. was at an inflection point and needed the right hire. In came a Swede named Pia Sundhage with a guitar and some old-school tactics. An Olympic gold medal came less than a year later.

Factually, the U.S. women are coming off a far worse World Cup performance than in 2007. The Americans’ tactical struggles, combined with the advanced play of many nations at the tournament — including eventual champion Spain — begged major questions about whether the U.S. has been completely surpassed in the world pecking order, and if the team’s style of play can still compete with the best. The roster has also undergone significant transition, with a new generation of players pushing for minutes and largely replacing the entire core of those 2015 and 2019 teams.

Sauerbrunn, a two-time World Cup winner who missed the 2023 edition due to a foot injury, feels that the next coach needs to embrace what makes the U.S. great while introducing new ideas to push the team forward.

“A new coach coming in I think would be very wise to keep what makes this team great, important,” Sauerbrunn said on Monday. “And so, you think about mentality, you think about how great we are in transition moments, how great we are on set pieces. I think those things need to be consistent. And then I think with a new coach coming in, what they bring to our table is going to be the most important thing. So, how they want us to play their tactics and then being able to apply it and teach us in a way that we can then execute it on the field.

“What’s exciting about a new coach is new ideas, new ways of playing the game. I’m really excited to see who this person is going to be and what they want our team to look like and how they’re able to tell us how to do that.”

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