February 9, 2013
READY TO ROLL
Sermanni ready to make his mark on U.S. women's team
By Michael Lewis
|Managing the playing time of Abby Wambach will be one of Tom Sermanni's challenges as U.S. women's coach.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
As he prepares for his first international match as coach of the U.S. Women's National Team, Tom Sermanni realizes the great responsibility he has.
His charge is to keep the high standards of the American women -- three-time defending Olympic champions -- while trying to refine parts of the team. Call it reloading, rebuilding or revamping, the task is an immense one, given the team's success and reputation.
On Saturday, the U.S. plays Scotland in an international friendly in Jacksonville, Fla. at 5 p.m. ET. (fans can view the broadcast live through a ussoccer.com stream r follow the match via ussoccer.com's MatchTracker and on Twitter @ussoccer_wnt).
Sermanni, who most recently directed the Australian women's side for eight years, said in a recent interview that there was a balance in keeping a winning tradition and developing players for the future.
"I think like any team, I think there is a degree where you're constantly building and rebuilding a team," Sermanni said in a recent interview. "I think the only difference coming into this job, in most scenarios I've had in my career, I've come into positions where the job has been in a little bit of turmoil, the team or the club has been in sort of a disarray. So that's a matter that's slightly different coming into a team that has been extremely successful and had a very popular coach, a team that is experienced and probably over the next period of time, obviously will need to have some rebuilding.
"So that's probably where the challenge is -- to keep the team successful or try to make it even more successful, if possible. And at the same time, try to seamlessly continue to rebuild the team."
Sermanni said he was keeping an open mind on players, whether they are newcomers or veterans.
"Until you start working with players, you're never quite sure which ones would be a good fit for you, what abilities they have and what actually you think you can get out of those players," he said. "It has been a very stable squad for the last three or four years. So, there are players on the fringes that I don't know about. so, it's important for me to have a look at those players that are comparable to the ones already on the squad.
"What I do what to stress, I don't want to go in an judge players by age. To me, if you're 17 or 37, if you're good enough to be on the team, then you're in the team. I know the team is experienced and there are some players are in the 30's That doesn't automatically mean that you're going to be discarded and going to be dropped out of the team."
In terms of the international playing cycle, this is the perfect time to take over. There are no FIFA tournaments until the 2015 World Cup in Canada or the Rio Olympics. In contrast, Sermanni's predecessor, Pia Sundhage, became coach in a crisis situation when Greg Ryan was fired after finishing third after his controversial benching goalkeeper Hope Solo at the 2007 WWC in China. Sundhage had less than a year to prepare the team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"I'm really excited by the challenge," Sermanni said. "I got to the stage where I had eight years in the position in Australia. You can get comfortable, particularly in the national team position. I think it was a good time for me to move on. To get this opportunity was a dream job, in a sense."
Given the fact the U.S. has won the WWC twice and the Olympic gold medal four times, there is always pressure to win a title and every game in which, not just to do well.
Sermanni, however, has to prepare for the future and give young players a chance.
"It's always a delicate balance," he said. "There's no textbook that tells you how to balance that. It's really what you see, what you think and what you feel is the right think to do. Again, that is down to what you see potentially see in players. and how players perform. I think if you look at my track record. I am not scared to shuttle players in. so I don't have any concerns about bringing in anyone in maybe seem from left field. I will put them in the team if that's the right thing to do at the time. It's about the right time for the time and the right time for the players as well. You don't want to throw a player in there at the wrong time, which actually can be detrimental to them as it can be to the team."
And about one of those players over 30 -- Abby Wambach. The 32-year-old is coming off leading the U.S. to its third consecutive Olympic gold medal and winning the FIFA women's world player of the year. Wambach is the heart and soul off the team. Many strikers lose their effectiveness on the other side of 30, but Wambach is only six goals away from Mia Hamm's all-time international goal-scoring record of 158.
Despite her great individual success and awards, Wambach's unofficial motto has been that it isn't about her, but about the team, the ultimate attitude for a superstar.
"And that's a great attitude that she has and you look at what she has done for the team," Sermanni said. "I mean her make-up is just unbelievable. If you speak to any defenses in the world, any international defenses on who they don't want to come up against, I think Abby is your No. 1 player. Just my interactions with Abby, which has been huge. I have seen her play and teams -- I mean she has caused me some grief in that regard, she's a through professional. I would hope because of her professionalism -- hopefully I won't snuff that out -- but I would think that working players like that are a delight. They're professionals. They're achievers. They're motivated. They're focused and they're winners. As a coach, those are ingredients that you want in a player. I am working forward to working with those kind of players. If in some way I can help them improve them and give them a little bits of my [knowledge] of the game, that would be terrific."
Wambach certainly is no spring chicken. She has thrown her body around the field like a rag doll and she has incurred more than her share of injuries. It will be up to Sermanni to give Wambach enough playing time to continue to hone her skills and find the right times to rest her. Remember, she also will play with the Western New York Flash in the fledgling National Women's Soccer League.
As for determining how to utilize Wambach, Sermanni said: "That comes down to your management skills. I think one of the critical things of coaching is how well you manage not just the players, but overall the things around the team. That's part of it. Part of it is making judgments on your players of when you perhaps have to rest them, when perhaps they have to be eased off. That all goes with the normal part of the job."