There were so many questions that needed answers before the United States women’s national soccer team took on China on Thursday night. A game that was officially scheduled as friendly against an over-matched Chinese squad turned into a pivotal one due to the circumstances.
Former head coach Tom Sermanni’s firing came Sunday, providing just a three-day gap before the No. 1 team in the world had to regroup for different kind of statement game. Would this team respond in the right fashion for its first contest of the in-limbo era?
Give Carli Lloyd the mic on that one because the 3-0 win at Qualcomm Stadium stemmed from her two first-half goals.
"It’s been a tough couple of days for us but this team, what we do best is we come together and we get more fired up and I think it was a good end to the trip," said Lloyd, who scored in the 20th and 23rd minutes for her first goals since Feb. 8.
"We can’t control certain things and whether the timing was right with everything that happened with Tom, it is what it is, and we just have to carry on, move on," Lloyd said, adding that, "at the end of the day there’s a lot of more important things to worry about and we’ve just got to come together like we did tonight."
Sermanni’s sudden exit came following a 2-0 win over this same opponent in Colorado. The team had since traveled to San Diego, joining interim head coach Jill Ellis, United States Soccer’s Director of Player Development. Her task this week was not an easy one.
United States Soccer Federation president Soccer Sunil Gulati has called Sermanni’s firing a "difficult decision" but also said those at the helm of the organization believed a "different direction" was needed. Is Ellis the favorite to replace Sermanni?
"That’s not my decision," said Ellis, whose record improved to 6-0-2 as the team’s interim coach, dating back to the time she filled the same role in 2012. But it’s obvious that she’s thought of highly when it comes to the members of this team.
"I’m always honored to be coached by Jill," said Hope Solo, who made one save in the shutout. "Every time she has something to say I think we’ll perk up and really listen. So yeah, I’d love to see her on board."
Players this week, namely Solo and Abby Wambach, rushed to Sermanni’s defense to adamantly deny rumors that a player revolt was the root cause of the ouster.
It was certainly a tough week for the team. But was it bad timing?
Now this group has 28 days till it next takes the field together on May 8 against rival Canada. This weekend the National Women’s Soccer League season will kick off with the majority of the USWNT members scattered about.
"There’s obviously not a good timing with letting a coach go and you’re all kind of wondering why not after this next game, why in the mid of a trip, but to be honest I think that it actually worked out better for us," Lloyd said. "We went through a little rough patch after the last game against China and we were able to still stay together and have these next few days together and not just fly off to our NWSL teams."
They need a coach named soon, and the sooner the better. While Ellis seems like a good fit because of her familiarity with the players, she has once before removed her name from the head-coaching job when she was previously in the mix.
"It’s been a crazy week and I haven’t had a chance to reflect on a few things," said Ellis. "For me, going home and just taking 24-48 hours to think about it and then probably having a conversation with Dan (Flynn, CEO) and Sunil, figuring out where I go from here."
World Cup qualifying for the 2015 event in Canada starts this October. The U.S. is on the clock.
"I assume a new coach will be named before the next match," Solo said. "At this point we’re all going back to our clubs so between now and then Sunil and Dan are going to make up their minds. But at the end of the day we’re going to come back to the game against Canada…and if it’s still with Jill we’re still going to perform to the best of our abilities."