Yael Like a Girl: The Times They Are A-Changin Once Again

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In late 2007, the US Women’s National Team sat in a hotel meeting room skeptically eyeing their new leader and anticipating some words of wisdom. The Swede pulled out a guitar from next to her at the table and began to sing Bob Dylan’s ’The Times They Are A-Changin.’ Despite awkward giggles and shocked facial expressions, the players were being serenaded with words they knew were true…things would be different.

Pia Sundhage, during her five-year reign as leader of the USWNT, instituted new training sessions, emphasized different tactical concepts and created a fresh group dynamic for a team lacking direction and struggling with controversy in the wake of previous coach, Greg Ryan.

Pia shared her personal philosophy in clear English, though never without a hint of her Swedish accent and phraseology. She talked about “to be brave,” “to enjoy the journey,” “the American attitude” and “find a way to win” often. On a cold, rainy day when the team had just finished running the beep test in brutal, windy conditions, she entered the locker room, drenched from head to toe, singing, “You can get it if you really want.” No one laughed awkwardly during her Jimmy Cliff rendition. The team had become accustomed to being sung to. The unique training drills had become habitual. Pia’s style was anchored deep within the team culture.

The USWNT ship sailed on under Pia’s guidance—not without its share of ups and downs, but it was a fairly smooth journey, marked by two Olympic gold medals and a second place finish in the 2011 World Cup. On Saturday, Pia announced that she will be leaving the U.S. team and returning home to coach the Swedish National Team. She ended her American journey the same way she began it: with Bob Dylan. “If not for you, I wouldn’t be where I am…” she sang to the fans in Rochester, NY before the USWNT victory tour game against Costa Rica.

Once again, “times, they are a-changin’.” There is a huge question mark as to who will take charge of the USWNT. Despite Pia’s overwhelming success in big tournaments, her successor is left with quite a difficult task. There are a number of veteran players, and experience heavily skewed in their favor. It will be vital that the new coach identify the proper areas to introduce new talent, while maintaining the leadership and team culture that has been responsible for the team’s achievement in the past.

For all of Pia’s wonderful traits, she essentially operated independently of the youth national team system. The new coach will be wise to repair this disconnect and implement his/her coaching philosophy throughout the youth ranks as to prepare youngsters to fill in with the senior team. It is imperative not only to use the youth system for identification, but to teach the players and encourage the qualities that the USWNT values.

Moreover, for the majority of Pia’s tenure, she had the Women’s Professional Soccer league at her disposal to identify players as well as allow her mainstays to play regular games. She could easily attend a game or request a filmed version and see five or six of her players play in one sitting. In the aftermath of WPS folding, players have dispersed throughout Europe. Some will be featured in the new professional league forming in the U.S., but many potentials to represent the country are playing elsewhere. Ali Krieger, Ashlyn Harris, Keelin Winters and more than a handful of other top players are playing in the Frauen Bundesliga in Germany. Christen Press, Meghan Klingenburg, Brittany Bock, myself and many more have joined teams in Sweden. Young talent Lindsey Horan is playing for Paris Saint Germain in France. Rebecca Moros and Beverly Goebel ventured to play in Japan. The next coach may have a treasure chest of talent to pick from, but not without a search.

With many other countries starting to invest more heavily in their women’s programs, the onus is on US Soccer to select a coach for the American women that is prepared to take on a task that runs far deeper than choosing an 11-player lineup. The new USWNT leader will likely implement a fresh style, tie in the youth national teams, potentially cut a couple veteran players and decide where and when to inject the team with new faces. There is a lot to live up to on the heels of Pia’s success with the team. The new coach may not have Pia’s musical talent, but will surely institute his/her own way. Because “the times they are a-changin’”!

2 Comments on "Yael Like a Girl: The Times They Are A-Changin Once Again"

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  1. dianegh09@gmail.com dianegh09@gmail.com says:

    I welcome your perspective as an active player trying to make the senior women's national team.

    I agree that Pia may not have instilled her philosophy through the youth ranks, but US Soccer themselves didn't think the women's side was important enough for full time development and technical directors until January 2011. So in that respect the new coach will have a huge advantage trying to implement a philosophy through the entire women's side.

    In regards to being able to scout potential players across the globe, I believe one of Pia's requests prior to her deciding to return to Sweden was that she be afforded a more liberal travel account. Let's hope that US Soccer heeds that request for the new coach.

    I would love to see some new faces on the national team, but not at the expense of the core of talent and experience already established. Certainly every deserving player should have their chance to show what they've got, but not just for the sake of 'out with the old and in with the new'. I hope that whoever is selected as coach doesn't try to reinvent the wheel. I believe Pia has the team moving in the right direction and whoever takes over can easily build on that.

    In regards to all the players trying to make the senior team, I wish them all well and really can't wait to see what the next camp will look like.

    As much as I hate to see Pia go, I know that every coach has their time and I hope that whoever is selected to be the new coach makes me feel the same when their time is up.

  2. dianegh09@gmail.com dianegh09@gmail.com says:

    Next coach..I'd love to see Meinert from German U-20's, but probably wouldn't happen. Very successful German system and she may be Neid's successor. From within US I'd be happy with Waldrum or Ellis. I'd really, really like the next coach to be a woman. There are several top tier women college coaches who are up to the task. As long as it's not Paul Riley or Steve Swanson I could probably live with it.

    Yael, who do you think is in the running?

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