It wasn't as if this wasn't a complete surprise, but I am still unhappy about the news that Pia Sundhage will be stepping down as head coach of the United States women's soccer team. I think she is perhaps the best women's coach that this country has ever had, and this country's soccer fans owe her a great deal.
Yes, American has been dominant in women's soccer for far longer than Sundhage was coach (five years). However, over the past decade America has seen a surge in the quality of women's soccer in so many other countries that American dominance was no longer a guarantee. In 2007, the United States finished third at the World Cup, an event that they had won fairly easily four years earlier. I believe it was the sea change in the women's game as well as this failure at the world cup that allowed a coach like Sundhage to be hired here.
Sundhage was the first foreign women's national coach for the United States when she was hired in November, 2007, and she soon brought a new style to the team. She changed the more free-playing, heavy-attacking American team into a more possession-oriented style that the world was beginning to emphasize (something that current men's national coach Jurgen Klinsmann is also trying to implement). America always had some of the best athletes, but they didn't always play smart.
Clearly, Sundhage's new approach worked and she was able to blend her style in with a team that was gradually turning over its squad to younger players. Over the past six years, the team has achieved an 88-6-10 record with two Olympic gold medals and one World cup championship. She also brought a great deal of fun and spontaneity to the team that would often present itself at post-game press conferences. For crying out loud, at her first team meeting, she broke out a guitar and sang some Bob Dylan to the team.
She will clearly be missed, but at least she won't be leaving the cupboard bare. Many times top coaches step down when it looks like their team has reached its peak but that can't be said about this American women's team. Yes, there will probably be a little turnover before the next major tournament (World Cup in 2015) with three team leaders already over the age of 34 right now (Heather Mitts, Christie Rampone, and Heather Boxx). Abby Wambach is 32. Hope Solo is 31 (although, to be honest, Solo could be a great goalkeeper for another couple Olympics). However, with a bevy of young talent led by Alex Morgan (23), Tobin Heath (24), Kelly O'Hara (24), and Sydney Leroux (22), the American women's team figures to still be one of the best in the world for some time to come.
Julie is a featured sports contributor for the Yahoo Contributor Network. She has been an avid supporter of the United States women's soccer team for over a decade.