Field narrows for US Women’s coaching job; decision could come soon
By Charles Boehm
The U.S. Soccer Federation is closing in on its choice for the next U.S. women’s national team coach, multiple sources have informed Soccer Wire.
“I think it’s down to the final few, I think there’s four or five left,” said candidate and former Philadelphia Independence (WPS) coach Paul Riley in a recent conversation with Soccer Wire. “I’m sure there’s a couple of surprises, a couple of foreign coaches that nobody knows about…I don’t know if they’ll announce it soon, but I think we’ll know pretty soon.”
A decision has been promised by the end of the month and could be made possibly as early as next week, although as Riley said, the federation’s timetable for publically announcing their pick is less certain. If the job goes to one of the college coaches in the running, they would likely finish the current NCAA season and wait until January to pick up the US reins in the wake of Pia Sundhage’s return to her native Sweden.
The USWNT is currently in the midst of its “Fan Tribute Tour,” an extended series of friendly matches which resumes against Germany on Oct. 20 (Bridgeview, Ill.) and Oct. 23 (East Hartford, Conn.). Youth development director Jill Ellis will lead the team during those matches, though recently announced games against Ireland (Nov. 28 in Portland, Ore. and Dec. 1 in Phoenix) could conceivably mark the new boss’ debut.
Most, but not all, of the serious contenders have been identified. Notre Dame and U.S. Under-23s coach Randy Waldrum is often mentioned as a frontrunner, along with Virginia and U-20s coach Steve Swanson, former US coach Tony DiCicco and veteran figures Anson Dorrance and Jim Gabarra.
And Penn State boss and former USWNT assistant Erica Walsh remains a possibility, having strongly refuted reports that she has taken herself out of contention for the job. Both she and Riley admitted that they have been contacted regarding the position.
“It is the highest honor that this country could bestow upon me, and I don’t take that lightly,” she told Soccer Wire while scouting for PSU at the WAGS Rael Vodicka Memorial Tournament in Virginia this week.
“I want to be as much a part of the process, or the solution, as anyone in this country.”
In her six years in Happy Valley, Walsh has consolidated the Nittany Lions’ position as the Goliath of the Big 10, extending their active streak of regular-season conference championships to 14. She calls her position at PSU “the best job in the world” and says she has no desire to leave, but sees any consideration for the USWNT vacancy as a privilege not to be spurned out of hand.
“Receptive is the right word, because who in their right mind wouldn’t be?” she said, classifying herself among several candidates who are “passionate people that understand where we are, that understand we’re at a tipping point, if you may, and we need to make sure that where we are right now is the lowest point, or at least the starting point, for the next four or five years.”
Riley is the maverick of the bunch, a wry, engaging Englishman who has spent decades coaching at the youth, semipro and professional levels in the United States. He emphasizes the importance of the new USWNT coach taking a leading role in the new pro league being planned by U.S. Soccer and renewing the current squad with an injection of up-and-coming young players.
“It’s a big job, to tie it into the [new] league and make sure the league’s going to work with them, tie it into the youth teams and make sure that we’re bringing up the 17-, 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds up to the full team to train and play. Obviously this team’s going to be remodeled and reworked,” noted Riley. “The new coach coming in is going to have to make some big decisions.
“It’s probably the number-one job in women’s soccer in the world, so I think I should be thankful, probably, to get in the final group,” he added. “The rest of the world’s getting better, so this is a huge hire. The next coach has got a lot harder job than Pia had.”