Weeks have passed and I think I’ve finally processed Tom Sermanni’s untimely firing by USSF from his USWNT coaching job. I think. At first I was highly upset and bewildered. Oh, hell let’s face it, I’m still highly upset and bewildered.
I liked Tom as the selection to succeed Pia and I bought into his experimentation and willingness to vet many new players. I liked that he used different line ups and different formations. I liked that he was pushing the team in a direction they’ve needed to go in for some time now. I liked that the players, all of them, were not comfortable in their spot on the team. I liked that none of this seemed to bother him when questioned by media, even after Algarve.
Ah, Algarve and the Cup and the USWNT’s seemingly poor result. No one wants to finish in 7th place, in anything, but especially not in a tournament they’ve dominated recently. Did I expect a better result? Yes, I did. Was I disappointed with the way the team played? Not, really. Every game had a different starting XI and subs, but they were in every game. No matter the final score, they were competitive in every game. Did they lose our “American” fighting spirit? No. Did they stop attacking? No. Did they give up? No. Did they lose to teams they’ve beaten under the old style? Yes. But honestly, that old style is what wasn’t working anymore and what Tom was mandated by USSF to change. Algarve was a positive on so many levels I am hard-pressed to find fault with our result. I think I am in the minority opinion, though.
Moving on from Algarve was hard for many fans and apparently for USSF, too. With little to no contact with Tom after Algarve and with some (no one knows how much or little, or who or when) input from players, USSF in the form of Sunil Gulati sacked Tom after an international friendly win against China. Just showed up and sacked him with the only explanation being USSF wanted to go in another direction. This only demonstrates why I have such contempt for USSF and TPTB. To be so rude as not to even give a performance review so that an employee knows what his employer is dissatisfied with is not only bad business practice, but down right rude. And if any conversations were had behind the scenes between Tom and USSF, no one will admit to them. Tom has said emphatically that he was not spoken to after the Algarve Cup and he has never given me any reason to doubt his honesty. I am doubly disgusted that they lured Tom away from a successful stint with Australia’s women’s national team, The Matildas, to change the program here in the U.S. to more possession-oriented, attacking football and to re-invigorate a team in transition and then not had the guts to stick out the transformation. If you ask me, USSF lost the “American” fighting spirit. They knew what they were getting when they hired him and didn’t have the confidence in their own decision to see it through. Way to go USSF.
The other part that I spent a lot of time thinking about was why fans were/are so quick to point the finger at a player(s) as the culprit in Tom’s firing. I have no doubt the players were consulted or might even have sought out USSF to express their opinion about how things were going under Tom. I would expect that. I would also expect USSF to take it all in perspective. My employer surveys the employees every quarter about how they feel the company/leadership is doing. I am also 100% certain that no one in leadership has been fired because one, or two employees have not had confidence/belief/liked them. If leadership is not engaged in something illegal an employer would be foolish to act on such a minority opinion. If USSF was really running scared about the results Tom would bring in the upcoming Women’s World Cup, I’d look to other contributing opinions, not solely a player or two. What about staff? Tom kept most of the USWNT staff and had only recently hired his own assistant coach. Maybe the staff were uncomfortable with the direction Tom was going, against the status quo? What about sponsors? Sponsors pay a lot of money to USSF and expect results to hang their brand name on. Maybe sponsors got antsy after Algarve and since USSF had no conversation with Tom they were ill-equipped to calm sponsor’s fears? What about fans? I’m a fan and I know I freely voice my opinions on social media and through blogs and the occasional email. Maybe fans contributed in some small way to the unease. It could happen.
My guess is Tom’s firing was a result of all these factors and others I would have no idea about. I’m sure some opinions weighed more heavily than others, but I think they probably all contributed. And that leaves me more than a little sad that “fans” would be so quick to point the finger at a player, any player, as having so much power to get the coach sacked. That does not bode well for the USSF or the sport.
Another thing I had trouble with was “a different direction”. USSF can’t just say that with no explanation of which direction they want to go in. If they were not happy that Tom hadn’t settled on a set roster, or positions, or formation as World Cup Qualifying draws closer, how in the world do they expect a new coach to accomplish all that with the same mandate they gave Tom in the time remaining? Leads me to think they will abandon the mandate and just look for a coach that does what looks familiar. I’m not OK with that.
I want this USWNT to win the World Cup. Period. I don’t care if they do it in skirts and tube tops or nurses uniforms. I don’t care what formation they use or who is on the team. I don’t care who coaches or who commentates.
But I do. I do care. I do care that they have bad-ass kits. I do care that the elder players make the team, especially Abby, Christie and Hope. I do care that the coach can pull it all together and get them to play pretty soccer, it doesn’t have to be beautiful, pretty will do in this case. I do care that they win for the 99ers. As much as this generation wants to get out from under their shadow, I’m sure the 99ers would like to pass the torch and just savor their great accomplishment without always being characterized as the weight around this team’s neck.
What were they thinking? We will never know. I will never know, but I have to move on. I have to wish Tom the best. I have to support this USWNT in whatever form it takes going forward. I have to try to support the new coach. I have to continue to hold USSF accountable in whatever way I can, for my sanity.
I am a supporter. It’s what I will do.