Thursday, February 17, 2005


What a Mess....

On Tuesday, April Heinrichs resigned as manager of the United States Women's National Team, ending a five-year run where the US finished second in the 2000 Olympics, third in the 2003 Women's World Cup, and first at the 2004 Olympics. Moreover, her attempt to pacify the veterans while bleeding new talent harmed the program and her standing both within Soccer House and in the media. The search is on for a replacement and all I can say is GOOD LUCK!

Despite having what is considered the best national team program on the planet in terms of player talent and success rate, there is not a pool of talented persons available to lead it. I never did like April and thought the Fed could have made a better choice in 1999 when Tony DiCicco "retired". The best candidate then, and the one who would be the best candidate now had he not been taken from us by cancer in the interim, was Clive Charles. He had solid credentials in the women's game, had been an assistant for BOTH National Teams, had coached at least two present members of the WNT pool (Tiffeny Milbrett and Shannon MacMillan), and was not part of the UNC establishment that held (and still holds) a lion's share of spots in the player pool. With the best candidate (in my opinion) no longer with us, we are left with few options, none of which are pretty. They break down (with one exception) into the following categories: retreads, WUSA, aisle-crossers, imports, and projects.

Retreads: Anson Dorrance and Tony DiCicco. Both former managers of the WNT, this pair of experienced coaches have to be considered on the short list for the vacancy. Dorrance's recent legal troubles at UNC make him a questionable candidate and I'm not sure he wants to get back into the NT game. The latter is also probably true for DiCicco, I would believe. If either man came forth and said he was interested, I am quite sure he would have serious backing for the post.

WUSA: The pool of former WUSA coaches, unlike that of MLS managers, is not teeming with possible options for this post. The top coaches in the league all have baggage. Be it Jim Gabarra or Tom Stone with little or no international experience, Pia Sundhage and her import status (she managed the Swedish YNTs prior to coming to WUSA), or Ian Sawyers and the perception of riding his wife's coattails (he's married to Julie Foudy), the nascent professional league did not spring up any one person who could be considered fully qualified for the opening the way MLS did with Bruce Arena.

Aisle-Crossers: This piece of the pool includes those whose primary coaching experience comes from the men's game but who MIGHT be interested in the position. At the top of this list would be Glenn "Mooch" Myernick. A former player in the NASL and coach in MLS, he is currently the top assistant on the Men's National Team and was the architect of the shocking win over Portugal in the 2002 World Cup. He has international experience, managing the U-23 National Team in Olympic qualifying, and would bring a sense of professionalism to the WNT program. The issue here, for Mooch or any other coach from outside the WNT pipeline, would be the ensuing firestorm from those who resent the notion that there is not a qualified candidate in the women's game (akin to the argument that there isn't a qualified American option for the men's team after Bruce hangs up the clipboard).

Imports: As the title implies, those in this category have coached or currently coach other national teams. The three names that come to mind are Evan Pellerud (current Canada and former Norway mgr.), Sundhage, and Rene Simoes (current Brazil manager and former head of the Jamaican Men's National Team, leading them to the 1998 World Cup). As with the aisle-crossers, the idea of going outside the borders for a new coach opens a can of worms for a lot of people involved with soccer in this country.

Projects: Heinrichs came from this part of the pool herself on taking the NT job. Her main accomplishment was captaining the WNT to the 1991 World Cup title and her coaching experience consisted of a handful of seasons at the University of Virginia. The fact that she was a she ultimately secured her hiring (IMO) and my gut tells me the Fed wants to stay the course on promoting women in high-profile coaching positions in this country (nevermind that the gender gap hasn't been closed yet as is the case in other sports). Any candidate in this part of the pool, no matter how knowledgeable of the international game, the player pool, and the politics of Soccer House, will have to learn on-the-job to an extent. Former players that are now coaches at the college level include Shannon Higgins-Cirovski (Maryland) and Carin Gabarra (Navy). Top college coaches such as Jillian Ellis (UCLA) and Becky Burleigh (Florida) come to mind as well. Recently-retired players such as Michelle Akers, Joy Fawcett, Carla Overbeck, and the like might be considered in order to keep the publicity machine rolling and preclude a rebuilding process that will not be pretty.

With all of that said, one candidate DOES exist in this country to lead the Women's National Team. He has been a college coach for a number of years, led the U-21 National Team in the DiCicco administration, and has enormous credibility in the women's game. That candidate is Jerry Smith from Santa Clara. No one I believe questions his commitment to women's soccer or his success rate at any stop to date. The only possible drawback is that he is married to Brandi Chastain and some (those less-educated in women's soccer and its history) might see this as a patronage move and thus no better than that for an aisle-crosser, an import, or a project. Unlike Sawyers, Smith's success/promotion in the game has never been because of Brandi, but on his own merit. In my opinion, unless Dorrance or DiCicco come out of international retirement, Smith needs to be the one hired.
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