Who will succeed Pia Sundhage?

Posted by Jeff Carlisle

Christie Rampone
no_source / Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesChristie Rampone's name has come up as a candidate for the U.S. women's national team.


Who would want to follow in the shoes of former U.S. women's national team manager Pia Sundhage? On the surface it seems a thankless task. Under the Swede, the U.S. reached three major finals in three attempts, winning two of them, and she nudged the U.S. along a path of playing a more sophisticated brand of soccer. Her record of 88-6-10 is downright intimidating.

It turns out there are plenty of interested candidates. The word on the street is that the preference of U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati is to hire an American woman, but it behooves him to cast as wide a net as possible, and there is no shortage of contenders. Gulati can mine the collegiate and professional ranks as well as a slew of coaches already operating inside U.S. soccer.

According to sources close to the situation, Gulati is forming a committee to aid with search, and its composition should be completed by the end of the week. At that point, phone interviews will be conducted and if a certain candidate progresses beyond that stage, formal in-person interviews will take place. It is believed that Gulati will want his search completed before the two friendlies the U.S. has scheduled in October against Germany.

THE FAVORITES
Jill Ellis: One of the early favorites, currently the development director of the U.S. women's national teams, Ellis has the advantage of already being within the USSF's management structure and has deep knowledge of the current youth teams. "She knows every kid coming through the system," said former U.S. international and current ESPN analyst Julie Foudy. For a team poised to lose some veterans, this is significant. Ellis also has an extensive coaching background that included a 12-year stint at UCLA and an assistant coaching role under Sundhage at the 2008 Olympics, as well as two tenures as the U.S. U-20 head coach. The only blemish on her résumé is that she never won a major tournament title at either UCLA or with the U-20s, with the latter team getting bounced in the quarterfinals of the 2010 FIFA U-20 World Cup. Her affiliation with former U.S. manager April Heinrichs, who oversaw a period of relative stagnation within the U.S. program, could be viewed as a negative.

Erica Walsh: Another of Sundhage's former assistants, Walsh helped the U.S. reach the final of the 2011 World Cup, and also spent three years as head coach of the U.S. U-17 team, so she is well known in U.S. Soccer circles. Walsh's biggest claim to fame centers on her current six-year stint at Penn State, which has seen her keep the Nittany Lions near the top of the women's college soccer heap. If Ellis doesn't get the job, Walsh could be the next in line.

Tony DiCicco: Without question, DiCicco has the longest résumé of any of the applicants, having not only won the 1999 World Cup and the 1996 Olympics with the senior team, but also leading the U-20s to the world title in 2010. That latter side featured players like Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux who are poised to be key performers going forward. DiCicco also had extensive experience in both the WUSA and WPS, and multiple sources confirmed he was one of the finalists for the job when Sundhage was hired. The only negative is that he might be viewed as a return to the past rather than someone to move the program forward, despite his impeccable credentials. His connection to the "99ers" might not go down well with a certain U.S. goalkeeper, either.

ON THE RADAR
Marcia McDermott: McDermott is perhaps the most widely respected of those who have served under Sundhage, and she has the benefit of having led the Carolina Courage to the 2002 title in the old WUSA. Foudy raved about what a "great brain" McDermott has. The big question is: Does she even want the job? McDermott is known to shun the spotlight, and has often preferred to operate on the administrative side of the game. When reached by telephone, McDermott said the post was one that "I'm not actively pursuing." But she added that if Gulati were to call she would "consider all different possibilities." Will Gulati oblige?

Paul Riley: Riley drew rave reviews for his work in WPS as manager of the Philadelphia Independence, whom he twice led to the league's championship game, losing the 2011 edition on penalties. Riley is renowned as an astute manager of his players and in terms of his tactics. As former Sky Blue FC general manager Gerry Marrone put it, "Players would run through fire for Riley." A source confirmed that Riley had been in contact with Gulati and will be part of the first wave of phone interviews.

Randy Waldrum: The head coach at Notre Dame, Waldrum has led the Fighting Irish to two national championships, yet he is dealing with the same conundrum all collegiate coaches face. Namely, does he really want to give up the job security and lucrative contract that befits the leader of an elite college program for a shot with the national team that could be all too brief? Waldrum is also currently the head coach of the U.S. U-23 team.

Steve Swanson: The current U.S. U-20 coach could be the beneficiary of good timing, as his side is set to square off against Germany on Saturday in the final of the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup. While Swanson seems a long shot to get the post, a victory would do plenty to enhance his chances. But like Waldrum, Swanson might find the security of his full-time job at the University of Virginia too lucrative to give up.

ON THE FRINGE
Albertin Montoya: The current U.S. U-17 national team head coach is one of the rare coaches to have experience at both the youth and professional levels, leading F.C. Gold Pride to the 2010 WPS title, a side that included current U.S. internationals Rachel Buehler, Kelley O'Hara, Nicole Barnhart and Shannon Boxx. But overall, Montoya's time as a manager at the highest levels has been brief, making him more of a coach to watch for the future.

Christie Rampone: Incredibly, the current U.S. captain's name has come up. This is down to Rampone's brief tenure as a player-coach for Sky Blue FC, one that saw her lead the team to the inaugural WPS championship in 2009 -- while three months pregnant, no less. But while she would no doubt have the respect of the players, a spot as an assistant under whoever is named head coach seems a more logical progression.

Jim Gabarra: Another head coach with extensive experience in the professional game, Gabarra led the Washington Freedom for ten years, a period that covered both the WUSA and WPS. His stint in Washington included winning the 2003 WUSA title. As a player, Gabarra spent the bulk of his career indoors, but still made 14 appearances for the U.S. men's national team.

Aaran Lines: The current head coach of the Western New York Flash, Lines has the distinction of leading his side to the final championship in the all-too-brief history of WPS. Lines also played professionally in Germany and Poland before getting into coaching.

Mark Krikorian: Krikorian has led Florida State to three College Cup appearances, and has professional experience during the WUSA years with the Philadelphia Charge. He also had a brief stint as the head coach of the U.S. U-19 team in 2004.

Paul Ratcliffe: Stanford has been a veritable machine under Ratcliffe. Not only did the Cardinal reach four consecutive College Cups -- breaking through for their first national championship last year -- but Ratcliffe has developed the past three MAC Hermann award winners, a group that includes the aforementioned O'Hara. Ratcliffe's lack of international experience would appear to rule him out, however.

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