Tom Sermanni was fired as USA manager hours after the team's 2-0 victory over China.
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Seemingly coming out of nowhere, United States women’s national team head coach Tom Sermanni was fired on Sunday night, just hours after a 2-0 friendly win against China in Commerce City, Colo.
"We want to thank Tom for his service over the past year and half, but we felt that we needed to go in a different direction at this time," US Soccer president Sunil Gulati said in a statement released a little after 10 p.m. ET. "We will begin looking for a new coach immediately to guide our women’s national team toward qualifying for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup."
Director of Development Jill Ellis will take over on an interim basis until a new head coach is found, starting with the USA’s second friendly against China in San Diego on Thursday.
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Following Sunday’s game, Sermanni had a meeting with Gulati and US Soccer CEO Dan Flynn, who, according to Sermanni, gave him the news. "They said they didn’t think things were working in the direction that they had hoped for and that was basically that," Sermanni told FOX Soccer late Sunday night. "Sunil just felt that the direction the team was going in and, I suppose, simply that my management style wasn’t one that was effective in this environment."
"I was surprised," Sermanni added. "I didn’t see it coming, to be honest. Generally, you always have an intuitive feel about these kind of scenarios and I didn’t. Perhaps I should have, but I didn’t. I didn’t sense what obviously the federation sensed and I’ve got to take some blame for that because it’s my job to have a sense around the team. If the team didn’t believe in what we’re doing, I should be able to have a sense of that and then be able to either continue to sell the idea of what we’re trying to do or change tack and go in a different direction. But I didn’t sense that the players hadn’t bought into what we’re trying to do."
While surprising, Sermanni’s firing did not happen in a void. In March, the US women, who have been ranked number one in the world for more than a decade, posted their worst ever result at the annual Algarve Cup in early March. They placed seventh, having tied Japan, lost to Sweden and been upset by Denmark before finally winning against North Korea in a placement game. In their last 11 appearances, they had won the tournament eight times and had never failed to medal.
Following his appointment in October 2012, effective Jan. 1, 2013, Sermanni set out to rejuvenate and modernize the US women, after several years of relative stasis under his predecessor Pia Sundhage. Sundhage, however, won two Olympic gold medals and lost a World Cup final on penalties in her time in charge.
Sermanni, an affable Scot who was the long-time head coach of Australia before taking over the USA program, sought to get the team away from the direct, physical play that has served it so well in the past. Instead, he hoped to implement a more possession-oriented and technical style, to fall in line with the overall direction the women’s game is headed in. With a slew of senior players approaching or surpassing their 30th birthdays, he also introduced younger candidates, looking ahead to the 2015 Women’s World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics – through which Sermanni was signed.
"From my perspective, we had a few bad results in the Algarve – which I think didn’t really relate to the performance — but I felt the team was heading in the right direction," Sermanni said. "I felt that we were playing a style of soccer that will be relevant come the World Cup next year. I felt we were developing a much stronger squad, rather than [just] a starting 11."
Sermanni added: "If you look individually at several players over the past year I think they’ve made significant progress, I think we’re starting to play a style of soccer that was both suitable to the US but was also sophisticated enough to win a major tournament. "Other people have obviously felt we haven’t gone in the right direction."
Results were mostly unequivocal as ever until the Algarve Cup — under Sermanni, 2013 was just the second year in which the USA went undefeated while playing at least 10 games — but stronger opposition was able to curb the Americans’ chances.
Still, the news took the American soccer community by surprise. In fact, FOX Soccer had previously arranged a phone interview with Sermanni through the federation for Monday, suggesting that nothing was afoot as recently as late Saturday night. Perhaps the meek performance against China changed things.
Perhaps it didn’t. Perhaps the array of strong personalities in the locker room chafed under all that change or grew impatient with the slow progress. The oddity of the timing of Sermanni’s dismissal — not immediately following the Algarve Cup but in between a quick succession of friendlies in an otherwise calm period — suggests an urgent matter needed settling. But what that was, exactly, is all a matter of conjecture for now.
Sermanni didn’t seem to know the origin of the discontent with his body of work either, whether it be the players or the federation. "I’ve no idea," he said. "I didn’t sense either. Maybe that’s me not looking at those things closely enough, but I didn’t. In all my dealings with the players on and off the field, I have absolutely no complaints with them at all. They’ve all been professionals and done what I’ve asked them to do. I haven’t witnessed any out-and-out discord. Whether there was or wasn’t any that I wasn’t aware of, I don’t know."
"Perhaps because I’ve maybe changed things a little bit or changed some of the concepts around the team, I don’t know if players have been uncomfortable with that," Sermanni added. "But I think during my year and a half, my communication with players has always been honest, it’s always been open. If there has been discontent, I can’t do much about that.
"I think I’m fairly open and honest with players and if players felt that they could certainly have come along and spoken to me and given me a sense of how they felt,"
The United States women’s national team will soon have just its eighth head coach in their almost 30-year-existence after Sermanni lasted just 24 games. That’s less than half as many Greg Ryan, the second-shortest-tenured USA coach at 55 matches. In 15 months in charge, Sermanni won 18 games, lost two and tied four.
"I’m disappointed," said Sermanni. "I’m disappointed because I felt like that we were really getting a handle on the team and taking the team forward. But I don’t bear any grudges. I just feel fortunate that I’ve had this job and worked with some wonderful players."
United States Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati declined FOX Soccer’s request to comment further on Sunday night.