Tom Sermanni interview on Women's Soccer United

1. Now that some time has passed can you take us through the events leading up to US Soccer’s decision and your thoughts about it?

Clearly the decision came as a complete surprise to me, the players and many other people both inside and outside the organization.

After the initial shock and surprise, I think my overriding feelings have been of disappointment and frustration. Disappointment that I’m no longer in charge of a fantastic team and group of players and frustration that I won’t be around to finish the task for which I was given a mandate.

I would like to make it clear that there was never any conflict between US Soccer and myself and that every contact I had with the organization was always thoroughly professional and their support for the program first class. So, despite their decision, I hold US Soccer in the highest regard. Like any other organization they have the right to make decisions regarding their direction and the employees they wish to employ in the pursuit of that direction.

I firmly believe the squad has individually, collectively and tactically made significant progress over the past 16 months. It now has greater depth and competition for places than ever before, in every position. We improved tactically and established a philosophy of play that was going to be successful moving forward.

So in this regard I feel that the decision by US Soccer was premature and they appear to have acted on information without sitting down with me to fully and critically appraise all aspects of the program, which was disappointing.

2. The reasons for your termination were broad and ambiguous including speculation that players were unhappy. Did you perceive any evidence of this and are you able to expand on any other reasons why this decision was made?

It’s a moot point to discuss the whys and wherefores of the reasoning behind the decision, however evidence didn’t indicate disharmony in the playing group. This was highlighted by the players reaction to the decision when, unsolicited, virtually every player contacted me to express their disappointment.

I believe I have always fostered an open, honest relationship with the players individually and as a group and having coached female athletes for over fifteen years, I believe I would sense if there was a major problem within the group as a whole.

Ultimately in any large group, especially in an elite high performance one, it is impossible to achieve total consensus. Competition and a level of dissatisfaction are commonplace in such an environment and it is impossible to keep everyone happy. However, there is a distinct difference between the edge created by healthy competition and discord. Had there been widespread discord in the playing group then rightly action should be taken to rectify this, but I don’t believe this was the case.

I think it would be fair to say that the Algarve results played a role in the decision. There’s no getting away from the fact that these results were not up to the standard required by me, the players or the program. However I believe that apart from the performance against Denmark, we actually played better than in 2013 when we won the tournament. Such is the nature of soccer. Our performances and the chances created against Japan and Sweden would normally have resulted in comfortable wins. However the reality is that poor results foster speculation that is often inaccurate.

While evidence of unhappy players doesn’t stack up, there was a management decision I should have enacted sooner and that was the appointment of an assistant coach. We did go down the path with two or three people during 2013, but circumstances prevented them from taking the role. I should have pushed through with finalizing this role earlier. Having said that, we had recently brought Omid Namazi on board and this has been a huge plus. He is an excellent coach with an outstanding background in the game and shares the same philosophy as myself regarding how this team should play. I had also been in the process of making an appointment to cover non-soccer related aspects. I believe this holistic view on coaching and management to be critical in the overall development of a team and the individual athletes within the squad on and off the field. Ironically the decision to terminate my appointment was made as the last pieces in the staff jigsaw were put in place.

I realize that all too often there is a ‘perceived’ way of managing players. Changing established methodologies can take time and it can be hard to gain understanding and acceptance and for people to appreciate that different styles can be equally effective.

3. What do you regard as your achievements over the past 16 months?

1. The introduction of possession based soccer in a positive attacking manner to avoid a one-dimensional approach to playing

2. Regeneration of the squad by the addition of younger players, the re-emergence of certain senior players and the development of fringe players. There was criticism prior to my involvement of not integrating young/new players into the squad and this was a very clear goal from the outset, one that I was tasked with by the Federation

3. Players were given opportunities and as much game time as possible to test their capabilities to play successfully under pressure in international soccer

4. Development of a squad that has strength and depth in every position

5. Working hard to change the mentality of a ‘starting 11’ to a squad based one. This is something that is prevalent and necessary in modern elite international soccer

While progressing the program in this way in 2013, we were faced with numerous challenges that hadn’t been prevalent in the past: the unavailability of players who were playing overseas or with colleges, the establishment of a new league and an unprecedented run of injuries, together with three pregnancies.

4. The squad was relatively unchanged for several years. Were you given the mandate to regenerate the squad and if so has this been successful?

Yes, I was given a mandate to regenerate the squad. I would say that this has been achieved extremely effectively with the successful infusion of young players and other new players who are slightly older (eg Dunn, Brian, Mewis and Press) and the blending of those players with the established ones. Horan, Brooks and Hagen are three other young players who have been given WNT opportunities and shown they have the potential to play at international level.

However I don’t believe regeneration is restricted to the introduction of such players. We have seen improvement with both established and previous fringe players. A few of these worth mentioning are: Sauerbrunn, O’Reilly, Holiday, Leroux and Engen. To be honest I believe there has been progression throughout the entire squad

5. What playing style adjustments had you made and do you think the players had adapted well to them?

Probably the two adjustments were playing a more expansive positive possession based soccer and pressing the opposition further up the field. Ironically I felt we showed significant improvement in these areas during the Algarve, despite contradicting results.

Going forward it is also important to have the flexibility to change formation in order to continue improving the effectiveness of the team and in my final game in charge we successfully adjusted from our normal 4/4/2 to a 4/3/3.

I believe the players had adapted well to what we were trying to achieve. They believed in it as it does reflect the American way of playing a brand of soccer that is aggressively attack minded. Philosophically and tactically I wouldn’t change anything that we did or the direction in which the team was moving.

6. Was it challenging managing this group of players?

It’s no different to other elite teams and players I’ve coached. As usual there are challenges with any team and some different cultural aspects country to country. However I have coached in the US before, including some players on the team and I have known other players through our regular international meetings when I coached the Australian team. What I will say is that this group of players is the most motivated I have ever been involved with. Their commitment, work and team ethic are beyond reproach.

7. How do you feel about the WNT Program at this point in time in relation to being on track for the 2015 WC and will you continue to follow the team’s progress?

I believe the team is in a great place. Most players are back from injury or well on the way to recovery. All overseas players will be back in the country by June and playing in the NWSL. This both eliminates the player release problems we had in 2013 and enables the next coach to monitor the performance and preparation of the players with much greater accuracy.

There is also now greater stability within the squad as a whole and this sets a strong foundation for the program moving forward.

It was a great privilege for me to have coached this talented and motivated group of players and to work for US Soccer. I will continue to follow the team’s progress and wish them every success moving forward.

© www.womenssoccerunited.com

 

4 Comments
  1. Asa 6 years ago

    Thank you Tom for giving us your side of the story

  2. Author
    WSU 6 years ago

    Huge thank you to Tom Sermanni, who has taken the time to share his side of the story with Women’s Soccer United. There were many questions and confusion following the decision just hours after the USWNT win against China PR, and I think you can not get any clearer and a more honest insight than from the man himself.

  3. Terence Fullick 6 years ago

    Thanks for a very good interview, I’m just puzzled as to why if everyone was so happy, he was fired?, surely the powers that be didn’t base their decision solely on the Algarve Cup results, ?.

    I think he was doing a very solid job and and keeping the US Women’s team at the top.

    • Gina West 6 years ago

      Agree, that is why it was such a shock – the timing of the dismissal made it even more confusing.

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