The mood will be strikingly different for the U.S. Women’s National Team Thursday night at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
Jill Ellis, U.S. Soccer Director of Development, will take charge on the sideline as interim coach for the international friendly against China.
It was just Sunday night in Commerce City, Colo., when Tom Sermanni was the team's coach in a 2-0 win over China. Just hours after that match, Sermanni was fired during a meeting with U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and CEO Dan Flynn.
It was an unexpected dismissal, said Sermanni, who was 18-2-4 since taking over as coach in January 2013.
With qualifying for the 2015 FIFA World Cup just months away, a search for the next U.S. women’s coach will move quickly. In a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon, Gulati said a preliminary short list of finalists has already been formulated while not naming any names.
It is unknown whether Ellis, who is now in her second stint as interim coach, is a candidate. She declined consideration the last time the job came open after Pia Sundhage, who led the U.S. team to two Olympic gold medals and a runner-up performance in the world cup.
“Jill, I think, is a strong candidate for virtually any job in our program,” Gulati said. “She’s done a terrific job as director of youth development. We think very highly of Jill.”
Ellis may be one of a handful of female candidates U.S. Soccer is considering. Sundhage led the team to an 88-6-10 record in her five years of coaching, which ended after the London 2012 Olympic Games. She left the U.S. Women’s National Team so that she could return to Sweden and coach there.
“If we have a choice between two equal candidates, and one is male and one is female, then my preference would be to go with the female candidate,” Gulati said. “But rarely is the situation where you’ve got two exactly equal candidates."
“And the same would be true on an American coach. If we’ve got two choices between an international coach and an American coach, my preference would be to hire an American coach.”
Gulati said the plan is to have a new coach in place by the time games in the summer schedule are played. Qualifying for the world cup runs from Oct. 16-26 in Cancun and Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and that is the start of a busy 22 months. The women’s world cup begins June 6, 2015, in Canada, followed by the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.
After the friendly against China Thursday, the United States next plays Canada May 8 in Winnipeg.
The perfect candidate may be an American woman.
“Is it a consideration? The answer is yes,” Gulati said. “But the first consideration has to be taking the person we think can best lead the program, to keep it at a level that we’re all accustomed, which means a gold-medal performance next summer.”
The downfall for Sermanni began at the Algarve Cup in March. The United States won just one game of four. Its two losses included a 5-3 setback to Denmark and a 1-0 loss to the Swedish team coached by Sundhage. The team’s seventh-place finish in the tournament also included the end of a 43-game unbeaten streak.
“The results at the Algarve weren’t what we had hoped for,” Gulati said.
But that wasn’t the only factor, he said. There were conversations with staff members and players. Gulati and Sermanni had only one conversation between the Algarve Cup and Sunday’s game in Colorado, but the upcoming world cup qualifying meant a decision had to be made quickly.
“He’s an absolute class guy,” Gulati said of Sermanni. “We had to make a decision without the luxury of a lot of time. And I don’t mean a lot of time in the decision-making process, but in terms of where the team needs to be for October and where it needs to be for next summer.”
There was not, Gulati said, a move among the team’s players to remove Sermanni.
For her part, goaltender Hope Solo tweeted, “It's a somber day for us all today. Tom is simply a classy man in every way, and he will certainly be missed.”
As Gulati put it, “This isn’t a group of players coming to seek us out and saying, ‘There’s something wrong and we need to do something.’ That’s not what the overlying issue was.”Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Paul D. Bowker is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org.