USWNT: A Brief History of the Team’s Head Coaches

[Authors Note: This has been bouncing around in the drafts queue for a few weeks. I wanted to have this be a background research piece to a commentary on the search process for a new head coach and the challenges that coach will face, but I never came up with a succinct thesis for that article.]

Here is a look back at all seven of the the United States Women’s National Team’s head coaches since its inception in 1985. The coaches’ backgrounds, their hiring processes, a summary of their tenure are all reviewed, along with thoughts on each coach’s legacy.

The USWNT’s head coaches, so far:

  • Mike Ryan (1985): Record of 0-3-1 (W-L-T).
  • Anson Dorrance (1985-1994): Won the 1991 WWC. Record of 92-65-22.
  • Tony DiCicco (1994-1999): Third in the 1995 WWC; won the 1996 Olympics and the 1999 WWC. Record of 103-8-8.
  • Lauren Gregg (interim, 2000): record of 2-0-1.
  • April Heinrichs (2000-2005): Silver Medal in the 2000 Olympics, Third at the 2003 WWC, Gold Medal at the 2004 Olympics. Record of 87-17-20.
  • Greg Ryan (2005-2007): Third at the 2007 WWC. Record of 45-1-9.
  • Pia Sundhage (2007-2012): Won Gold at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, finished Second at the 2011 WWC. Record (as of 17-Sept-2012) of 90-6-10.

Note: As this is essentially a survey of the team’s history, in-depth discussion of specific incidents, especially the controversial ones, is beyond the scope of this article. Therefore, such incidents, like other less controversial events, are listed in mostly a “it happened” fashion. Also, as is typical with historical research, some of the sources used have differing and/or incomplete accounts of certain events and periods, so some details included below may not be fully accurate.

* * *

[In the below sub-headings, "HC" is short for 'head coach' and "IHC" is short for 'interim head coach.']

MIKE RYAN (1985)

PRE-USWNT HC BIOGRAPHY – Originally from Dublin, Ireland (b. circa 1936), Ryan caught the soccer bug while serving in the U.S. Army overseas in Europe. After leaving the Army, Ryan settled in the Seattle area and was heavily involved in the soccer scene, playing for adult teams, organizing youth teams, and was the head coach for the men’s team at the University of Washington. He helped to found the Washington State Youth Soccer Association (the first organizational meeting was held in his house), and then the Washington State Women’s Soccer Association (WSWSA). Ryan coached a few WSWSA teams, including FC Lowenbrau who won three (or maybe four) amateur national championships from 1980 to 1983 under his tenure. It was that success which ultimately led to him being named the first head coach of the USWNT.

HIRING PROCESS — By 1985, the idea of starting a women’s soccer national team had taken hold and U.S. Soccer began the process of finding a head coach. Mike Ryan was eventually selected over other candidates, including future USWNT head coach Anson Dorrance. In the eyes of U.S. Soccer, Ryan was more qualified than Dorrance as Ryan had coached in USSF-sanctioned events, which was an apparent requisite, while Dorrance was only a mere college coach. Not helping Dorrance’s cause, was his brash personality, which rubbed quite a few U.S. Soccer administrators the wrong way.

USWNT HC TENURE NOTES — Ryan only coached four international matches, all in 1985, in what was called Il Mundialito (An unofficial little World Cup) and held in the Italian resort city of Jesolo. The USA lost three of the matches to Italy, England, and in an apparent placement match, to Denmark, but did draw with Denmark in an earlier match.

USWNT HC LEGACY — Mike Ryan was the team’s passionate first head coach and also the guy picked ahead of Anson Dorrance.

~ ~ ~

ANSON DORRANCE (1986-1994)

PRE-USWNT HC BIOGRAPHY — Born in 1951, Dorrance grew up mostly overseas, which was where his passion for soccer was developed. After graduating from a Swiss boarding school, Dorrance eventually ended up at the University of North Carolina where he was a walk-on for their men’s soccer team. Two years after graduation, Dorrance became the head coach for that team, and when UNC started a women’s team in 1979, his duties were expanded to coach both. In his third year of coaching the women’s team, it won the final Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women Championship (1981) and the first three NCAA Championships (1982-1984), and was runners-up in the 1985 NCAA Championship. Help founded both the North Carolina Youth Soccer Association and the North Carolina Senior Soccer Association.

HIRING PROCESS — After the Il Mundialito tournament in the summer of 1985, Mike Ryan was “unceremoniously” fired. The USWNT head coach position was left empty until the spring of 1986 when U.S. Soccer invited a number of candidates to be interviewed for several national coaching positions, including the USWNT job. Dorrance, at age 35, was the youngest of all the candidates. This time around, Dorrance won over his evaluators, mainly through charm, and got the job.

USWNT HC TENURE NOTES — From the start, Dorrance emphasized fitness. In 1987, not satisified with the performance of veteran players on the squad, he quickly brought in a trio of  younger players — Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, and Julie Foudy. Mixed performances and U.S. Soccer politics almost led to Dorrance’s firing, with a 1990 match versus West Germany being an apparent litmus test: the USA won 3:0. In 1991, the USA dominated CONCACAF qualifying for the first Women’s World Cup and went on to win the first Women’s World Cup. Dorrance had planned on resigning right after the 1991 WWC, but decided to stay on, stealthily preparing his heir apparent, Tony DiCicco. Dorrance’s final official USWNT matches as head coach were suppose to be the 1994 Chiquita Cup. He had planned to use those matches as a trial for DiCicco and two days before that tournament,  Dorrance informed U.S. Soccer of his plans. Officially, Dorrance continued to be head coach for the Chiquita Cup and CONCACAF qualifying, although it is somewhat unclear whether DiCicco was in fact the de facto coach for those seven matches.

USWNT HC LEGACY — Dorrance instilled the importance of fitness, mixed in young players with veterans, led the team to a world championship, and helped to establish the team’s winning mentality. In addition he hired Tony DiCicco, as goalkeeping coach, whom Dorrance would groom to be the the team’s next coach, and hired Lauren Gregg as an assistant.

~ ~ ~

TONY DiCICCO (1994-1999)

PRE-USWNT HC BIOGRAPHY — Born in 1948, DiCicco was an accomplished goalkeeper, being named an All-American his senior season at Springfield College (Massachusetts) and playing professionally for five years in the American Soccer League, while also working as a physical education teacher. In 1982, DiCicco established his SoccerPlus Goalkeeper School. In 1991, prior to the first Women’s World Cup, Dorrance hired DiCicco as an assistant coach, in charge of the goalkeepers. DiCicco stayed on in that position and was also the goalkeeper coach for the 1993 FIFA World Youth Championship (men’s under-20 event).

HIRING PROCESS — Dorrance, concerned that U.S. Soccer would choose the next head coach based on politics rather than what was best for the USWNT, groomed DiCicco to be his heir apparent and planned to used his last set of the matches, the 1994 Chiquita Cup, as DiCicco’s unofficial trial run as head coach. Two days before the tournament, and only sixteen days before CONCACAF qualifying for the 1995 Women’s World Cup, Dorrance informed U.S. Soccer of his plans to let DiCicco be acting coach. However, the next day, it was reported that Dorrance had resigned and DiCicco had been named the next head coach. But, the day after that, it was clarified that Dorrance would stay on through qualifying in a nominal capacity.

USWNT HC TENURE NOTES* — DiCicco’s official hiring date is usually listed as August 22, 1994, or the day after CONCACACF qualifying for the 1995 WWC concluded. His first year, 1995, went well enough until the 1995 Women’s World Cup, where the USA lost to Norway in the semifinals and struggled against China in the group stage (China scored two late goals to salvage a 3:3 draw).

After the WWC, DiCicco made several key tactical changes, namely the switch to a zonal rather than man-marking defense and emphasizing more possession and more build-up in attack rather than an athletic kick-and-chase style. Starting with the 1996 Olympics, DiCicco brought in a sport psychologist, Colleen Hacker (also referred to as their “mental skills coach”). DiCicco also integrated a number of younger players, providing a foundation of depth and experience that would last several years after his resignation. Additionally, DiCicco was heavily involved in the youth WNT programs, even though he was not an official technical director. DiCicco was also a strong promoter of the USWNT and women’s soccer, as he rarely shied away from speaking with the press. And, of course, under DiCicco, the USWNT would win the 1996 Olympic Gold Medal in Atlanta, and the 1999 Women’s World Cup.

*Prior to the 1994 Chiquita Cup, DiCicco had already filled in once as acting head coach for Dorrance, in the USWNT’s 3:0 win over Canada in the Pontiac Silverdome, back in 1993, as Dorrance had a family obligation.  Also, DiCicco may or may have been the de facto head coach in July and August 1994, during which the USA won all three of its Chiquita Cup matches (Germany, China, and Norway) and once again dominated CONCACAF qualifying. (See the above section on Dorrance’s tenure for more information.)

DiCicco’s tenure was not without controversy: First, there was the Debbie Keller arbitration case, and then at the end of his tenure, the issue of whether DiCicco resigned voluntarily or was forced out.

Regarding Keller, in late 1998, DiCicco named the USWNT residency roster ahead of the 1999 Women’s World Cup. Not included was Keller, who had filed a sexual harassment suit against Anson Dorrance and the University of North Carolina in August 1998. In February 1999, Keller took DiCicco and U.S. Soccer to arbitration for discrimination and/or retaliation. Keller’s arbitration suit was dismissed in late June 1999, several days after the 1999 WWC had already kicked-off.

Concerning DiCicco’s resignation, the official line is a classic — that he stepped down in order to spend more time with his family — with the money quote from the U.S. Soccer press release being

“The main reason I’m stepping down is that it’s more important for me to be a world class husband and father than a world class coach.”

However, a CNNSI.com post by Michael Lewis paints a different picture:

…since Tony DiCicco “resigned” on Nov. 3. There is a reason for those quote marks — DiCicco was forced out because the federation wanted him to release players who were outspoken and activists off the field, according to national sources. He refused, saying he was more concerned with what a player does on the field.

Another version, or at least an additional layer, of the “forced out” story is that U.S. Soccer was concerned that DiCicco would side with the players in the collective bargaining negotiations.

Whatever the case, DiCicco’s resignation was announced on November 3rd, but he stayed on through the end of the year, doing some scouting and running one last camp, which was the first senior call up for a young goalkeeper from the University of Washington, Hope Solo.

DiCicco’s leadership style was much more of a consensus-building nature (see chapter 11 of Longman’s book for more details) and summarized by Mia Hamm as “Coach us like men, treat us like women.”

USWNT HC LEGACY — DiCicco will always be recognized for helming the USWNT to the first Olympic Gold Medal in women’s soccer and to the team’s second Women’s World Cup title, both on home soil. Besides winning the two most important titles in women’s soccer, DiCicco also built the talent and technical foundation needed for the ever-changing women’s soccer landscape. However, that foundation would be squandered.

~ ~ ~

LAUREN GREGG (interim, 2000)

PRE-USWNT IHC BIOGRAPHY – Born in 1960, Gregg played collegiate soccer at UNC and was captain of the first team to win an NCAA title. After graduation, Gregg was an assistant coach under Dorrance and later was hired as an assistant at Harvard, where she earned a masters degree in psychology. After Harvard, Gregg was the head coach at the University of Virginia for ten seasons, from 1986 to 1995. In 1989, Dorrance hired Gregg as an assistant coach. She continued in that position under DiCicco throughout his tenure. Additionally, Gregg was the head coach of the U-21 USWNT, winning two Nordic Cups, in 1997 and 1999, while finishing second in 1998. In 1999, she authored a well-regarded book on women’s soccer, “The Champion Within: Training for Excellence.”

HIRING PROCESS — Due to U.S. Soccer’s delay in selecting the next head coach of the USWNT, then current assistants, Gregg and Jay Hoffman, helmed the team — which consisted of mostly younger players plus a few veterans due to drawn out collective bargaining negotations –  for an overseas trip to Australia.

USWNT IHC TENURE NOTES — The young squad finished undefeated, winning twice and drawing once. A few days after the team got back to the States, a new head coach was named: April Heinrichs.

USWNT IHC LEGACY — Gregg’s time in charge is mostly a mere historical footnote.

~ ~ ~

APRIL HEINRICHS (2000-2005)

PRE-USWNT HC BIOGRAPHY – Born in 1964, the native of Colorado was a standout soccer player and team captain for UNC in the mid-1980s. From 1986 to 1991, she was an integral member of the USWNT and served as captain. After winning the 1991 Women’s World Cup, Heinrichs retired from international soccer and focused on collegiate coaching, which she had began doing in 1990. Heinrichs had ten years of collegiate head coaching experience: one year at Princeton (1990), five years at the University of Maryland (1991-1995), and four years at the University of Virginia (1996-1999). Heinrichs also served as an assistant USWNT coach under DiCicco in 1995 and 1996. From 1996 to 1999, Heinrichs was also in charge of the U-16 USWNT.

HIRING PROCESS — With the vacancy due to DiCicco’s resignation — or “resignation,” depending on which theory to one ascribes — U.S. Soccer took its sweet time finding a replacement. Early favorites for the job included then-current assistants Lauren Gregg and Jay Hoffman, along with University of Portland men’s and women’s head coach, Clive Charles, who was also in charge of the Men’s Olympic National Team. Heinrichs was sometimes mentioned as a possible candidate, but not one of the favorites.

On paper, Lauren Gregg was the top choice: She was a long-time assistant coach of the USWNT, had ten years of collegiate head coaching experience, and had youth international head coaching experience via the U-21 USWNT in the Nordic Cup.

Six weeks after DiCicco’s announcement, a short list of six candidates was made public:  Lauren Gregg, Jay Hoffman, Clive Charles, April Heinrichs, U-17 USMNT coach John Ellinger and U.S. Soccer’s Director of Coaching Education, Bobby Howe. DiCicco publicly endorsed Gregg as his preferred successor. Those candidates were interviewed by a committee that included Carla Overbeck.

In the end, the President of U.S. Soccer, Dr. Bob Contiguglia, selected Heinrichs as the next USWNT coach. According to Julie Foudy, the team’s “veterans [were] pleased with the choice of Heinrichs” (L.A. Times).

Heinrichs was not U.S. Soccer’s first choice. That was apparently Clive Charles, who was unwilling to leave Portland and step down as coach of the Men’s Olympic Team. Lauren Gregg was apparently not the first choice due to her connections to Tony DiCicco, who was somewhat out of favor with U.S. Soccer because of tensions between the Federation and the USWNT with disagreements over a post Women’s World Cup money-making tour being the final straw. The theory goes that because Gregg’s resume was so strong, U.S. Soccer could not go with a male candidate as that would look sexist, so they went with Heinrichs. Additionally, Dr. Contiguglia, the then U.S. Soccer President, knew Heinrichs from her youth playing days in Colorado, so there was a possible crony connection in the hiring.

USWNT HC TENURE NOTES — Also given the the title of Technical Director. Won the 2000 Algarve Cup. Was quick to cut a handful of 1999 Women’s World Cup veterans from the team, most notably Tisha Venturini who had 132 caps, after including her for the 2000 Algarve Cup. Heinrichs brought in her mentor, John Ellis, as an assistant coach and hired his daughter, Jill Ellis, as the U-21 USWNT head coach.

In 2000, Heinrichs switched the team’s usual formation from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2, and mostly stayed with that formation through the summer of 2003. Right before the 2003 Women’s World Cup, Heinrichs began to use the 4-3-3 along with the 4-4-2.

Lost to Norway in the final of the 2000 Olympics.

Although a number of younger players got call-ups and caps, Heinrichs was generally viewed as slow to integrate those players, most notably Abby Wambach. Similarly, Heinrichs was viewed as slow to bring in standout players from the WUSA, e.g. the almost last minute call-up of Shannon Boxx before the 2003 Women’s World Cup.

Won the 2003 Algarve Cup. Finished in Third Place at the 2003 WWC, after losing 0:3 to Germany in the semifinals. The USA’s style of play had regressed as direct kick-and-chase soccer and set pieces were emphasized over creativity. Regarding set pieces, allegedly, the excessive influence of sports psychologist Colleen Hacker was at least partially to blame for the over emphasis.

With that loss, the calls for Heinrichs to step down or be fired were mounting. Criticized were Heinrichs’ unimaginative and rigid tactics, questionable roster inclusions, her poor use of substitutes, her passive game management (e.g., just sitting on the bench during the Germany match), and poor player-management skills.

In December 2003, Brandi Chastain, with apparent support from other veterans, i.e., the ’91ers,  went to Dr. Contiguglia and asked that Heinrichs be fired, but the U.S. Soccer continued to support Heinrichs.

After the 2003 Women’s World Cup, then 31 year-old Tiffeny Milbrett left the team due to a frustration over Heinrichs’ vision of the team and coaching style as well as for personal reasons: battles with exhaustion and emotional fatigue due to the illness and death of her college coach, Clive Charles.

In 2004, Heinrichs hired Greg Ryan as a full-time assistant coach, after hiring him in 2003 as the Region II women’s national staff coach.

Won the 2004 Algarve Cup. Won the 2004 Olympics. In December 2004, Heinrichs was supposedly close to getting a three year contract extension (through 2008), but that did not materialize. Sometime in January 2005, a handful of veterans approached Heinrichs directly about stepping down. In February 2005, Heinrichs resigned but stayed with U.S. Soccer for the remainder of the her contract, through 2005.

USWNT HC LEGACY — Heinrichs tenure was more about looking backward than looking forward. She did helm the team through the swansong of the last of the ’91ers –  Hamm, Lilly, Foudy, Fawcett, Chastain — and allowed them to go out on an emotional high note, winning the Gold Medal in Athens. But, her failures in the two other major tournaments, losing to Norway in the 2000 Olympic final, and falling to Germany in the 2003 Women’s World Cup, loom much larger. Her emphasis on direct, non-tactical soccer began a period of stagnation, if not decline, in the quality of the team’s play, which would continue through the Greg Ryan era.

~ ~ ~

GREG RYAN (2005-2007)

PRE-USWNT HC BIOGRAPHY – Born in 1957, Ryan grew up Texas and played collegiate soccer at Southern Methodist University, where he was an All-American his senior year. After SMU, Ryan, who was primarily a defender, played in the NASL, mostly with the Chicago Sting, and also played indoor soccer for the Sting. While still a professional player, Ryan began his coaching career. After a stint as an assistant for the men’s team at Colorado College, Ryan was hired by the University of Wisconsin (Madison), where he helmed the women’s soccer team to two Final Four berths, including a runner-up finish, and five NCAA tournament appearances. In 1991, Ryan was named NSCAA Coach of the Year. Ryan would later go on to coach the SMU women’s program from 1996 to 1999 before taking the helm of the women’s program at Colorado College until 2002. In January 2003, Heinrichs hired Ryan as the Region II women’s national staff coach. A year later, Heinrichs promoted Ryan to the USWNT as an assistant coach.

HIRING PROCESS — After Heinrichs resigned in February 2005, Ryan was named interim head coach. As interim coach, Ryan took the USWNT to the Algarve Cup and won that tournament. Three weeks after that, the “interim” modifier was dropped and Ryan was named head coach. What is known about the search process is fairly murky, although it is known that Sunil Gulati was a member of the search committee, which was headed by Dr. Bob Contiguglia.

The short list of candidates were thought to be Jim Gabarra (former WUSA coach), Tom Stone (former WUSA coach), Pia Sundage, Jerry Smith (Santa Clara), Chris Petrucelli (U. of Texas), and Greg Ryan. Although, Tony DiCicco also expressed interest.

Pia Sundhage was apparently the veteran players’ pick, but her reluctance to also serve as technical director may have sunk her chances. And, as the theory goes, her popularity with the players may also have been a negative.

USWNT HC TENURE NOTES — Also given the the title of Technical Director. In his first year, Ryan cut Brandi Chastain, preferring to go with younger players. He also cut Tiffeny Milbrett, but not until after she got her 100th international goal.

Stayed primarily with the 4-3-3. From the beginning, Ryan emphasized an athletic, high pressure system. Emphasized more defensive work and more individual decision-making, both of which were switches from the Heinrich era. Primarily had to depend on residency camps for training and evaluation of players as there was no professional league.

In 2007, Ryan experimented with a 3-4-3 system and used that formation at times in the 2007 Women’s World Cup. Ryan believed that the formation was useful for defending against possession-oriented teams and forcing turnovers that could lead to goals (ESPN.com).

Prior to the 2007 WWC, the team under Ryan had a 35-0-7 win-loss-tie record, with two Algarve Cup wins (including when he was the interim head coach), and a runner-up finish in 2006 (lost to Germany on penalties).

With no departure of most of the ’91ers and no professional league, coverage of the team was fairly quiet up until the 2007 WWC. Going into that tournament, Nike hyped the team as “The Greatest Team You’ve Never Heard Of” (e.g., see this post at TheInspirationRoom.com and this official YouTube video by Nike Soccer).

Lost in the firestorm that erupted after the Brazil match was the almost disaster that occurred in the opening group match against North Korea (U.S. Soccer match report). In the 55th minute of that rainy match, the USA was up 1:0 when Abby Wambach collided with a Korean defender, causing a gash in Wambach’s head. Wambach was off the field for nine minutes as the USA’s medical staff tried to stitch her up. In that span, North Korea, aided by an eleven-on-ten advantage,  equalized and then took a 2:1 lead when a shot slipped through Hope Solo’s hands. Two minutes after the second goal, Wambach was back on the field, and five minutes after that, Heather O’Reilly scored a 2:2 equalizer. In retrospect, the safe choice would have been to sub in a replacement for Wambach, but according to Ryan, he defended his lack of subbing because the medical staff told him that Wambach would be back in the field in a few minutes.

The USA then went on to win its final two group matches and the quarterfinal match, all without conceding any more goals. And, then came the semifinal versus Brazil where Ryan infamously benched Hope Solo in favor of  veteran ‘keeper Brianna Scurry. Then, in the 60th minute, withe USA down 0:3 and down a player to the dubious second yellow given to Shannon Boxx, Ryan subs out a forward, Heather O’Reilly, for a defender, Tina Ellertson, who was given the responsibility of marking Marta.

After that loss, the floodgates of criticism were opened. One of the first out of the gates was Hope Solo, whose indirect criticisms of Brianna Scurry in a post match interview (YouTube) helped to launch a media firestorm which actually led to the focus of the media being on Hope Solo rather than Greg Ryan and his poor coaching. Solo’s comments led to Ryan barring her from the team for the rest of the tournament and ostracization by some members of the team.

Ryan would continue to coach the USWNT through October 2007, when it was announced that his contract would not be renewed.

USWNT LEGACY — On paper, Ryan ended his tenure with the best win percentage of any USWNT head coach, 0.900 (barely ahead of Tony DiCicco at 0.899). and just a single loss, the WWC semifinal versus Brazil. And, his emphasis on defense was not in itself a bad thing. However, Ryan’s emphasis on aggressively disruptive defending and direct attacking with a derisive disregard for any sort of possession game would be his downfall.

~ ~ ~

PIA SUNDHAGE (2007-2012)

PRE-USWNT HC BIOGRAPHY – Born in 1960, the native of Sweden is a living legend in her homeland, being one of her national team’s star players in its early days. After a long club playing career which included a stint as player/manager for Hammarby IF DFF, she later served as assistant head coach for various clubs in Sweden, before going to the States and serving as an assistant in the WUSA. In 2003, she became head coach of the Boston Breakers. After the WUSA folded, Sundhage went back to Sweden and coached in the  Damallsvenskan for a few years. Then, in 2007 she served as an assistant for the China WNT under fellow Swede Marika Domanski-Lyfors.

HIRING PROCESS — In the announcement that Ryan’s contract would not be renewed, it was stated that there would be a three person search committee. Given the short turnaround due to the Olympics, international experience was a very high priority. From the get-go, Pia Sundhage’s name was at the top of the unofficial shortlist, although Tom Sermanni may have been preferred as the top choice by U.S. Soccer, due to Sundhage’s reluctance to also serve as technical director, overseeing the women’s youth national teams.

USWNT HC TENURE NOTES — Sundhage got her wish and did not also have the title of technical director. With her easy going, consensus-building personality, Sundhage diffused the team’s locker rooms issues and successfully brought Hope Solo back into the fold.

Won the 2008 Algarve Cup. Won the 2008 CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament (on penalties). Won the 2008 Olympics, despite losing Abby Wambach due to injury in the final tune-up match. After the 2008 Olympics, Sundhage’s contract was extended through the 2012 Olympics.

2009 was a light year, due to the lack of any official competitions and the start up of the WPS. 2009 also saw the exit of Natasha Kai from the national team, of which the circumstances have yet to be made public.

2010 started off well enough with an Algarve Cup win, via defeating Germany in the final. Going into CONCACAF qualifying for the 2011 Women’s World Cup, the USA continued its  unbeaten streak going back to the opening group match of the 2008 Olympics, where they lost to Norway. In WWC qualifying, the USA won all three of its group matches, scoring 18 goals and allowing none, but then the USA lost to host Mexico in the crucial semifinal. Thus, the USA had to win the Third Place match and then an inter-confederation play-off against Italy to earn a spot in the 2011 Women’s World Cup, which the USA would do.

The loss to Mexico, coupled with disappointing performances by the U-17 USWNT (failed to qualify for their youth WWC) and the U-20 USWNT (knocked out of the U-20 WWC at the quarterfinal stage), did lead to some needed public discussion of ways to improve women’s soccer in the USA, and in early 2011, U.S. Soccer hired a full-time Technical Director and Development Director for women’s soccer, April Heinrichs and Jill Ellis, respectively, and also created a task force for women’s soccer development, chaired by ’91er Carin Jennings-Gabarra.

The USA’s struggles continued in early 2011, although they did win that year’s Algarve Cup. Going into the Women’s World Cup, the USA only scored more than two goals in a match twice, against Finland and Iceland, — and had two losses, versus Sweden and England.

In the 2011 Women’s World Cup, the USA got off to a satisfactory start, with group wins over North Korea and Colombia, but lost to Sweden in the final group match. That set-up a quarterfinal clash with Brazil, which turned into an epic win on penalties for the USA and re-launched the USWNT into American pop culture. The USA went on to defeat France in the semifinals, which led to a meeting with Japan in the final. In that final, the USA would take the lead twice, only to see Japan equalize both times and then eventually win on penalties. Even with the loss via spot kicks, the USWNT’s pop status barely diminished.

In January 2012, the USWNT regrouped and had their most dominant CONCACAF qualifying performance since the 1990s, scoring 38 goals and allowing none. But, the USA faltered some, losing 0:1 to Japan in the Algarve Cup during group play, which was followed up by a 1:1 draw against Japan in Japan. But after that, the USA posted five straight wins going into the Olympics.

The 2012 Olympics was another eventful tournament for the USA, the comeback win against France, a tight quarterfinal with New Zealand, the back-and-forth extra time win over Canada, and victory over Japan in the gold medal match at Wembley.

During her tenure, Sunhage primarily used the 4-4-2 formation, but did try other formations, such as the 4-3-3 and the 4-2-3-1 (which was the official formation in the 2008 Olympics technical report, and was also tried after the 2011 WWC).

USWNT LEGACY — Overall, Sundhage’s tenure as head coach was a resounding success: two Olympic Gold Medals and runner-up finish at a Women’s World Cup, with the team riding a wave of popularity not seen since 1999. But, not all of her time in charge was golden or near golden, most notably the almost disastrous WWC qualifying campaign. Sundhage did move the USA’s style of play forward, toward somewhat more technique and possession, however she neglected the development of the team’s broader player pool, leading to a lack of depth in various position for the then-present, as well as the future.

* * *

TABLE: USWNT Yearly Statistics, By Head Coach

YEAR   MP    W   L   T   WIN% |   GF   GA     GFA     GAA |  PU
--- Sundhage (2008-2012) --------------------------------------
2012^  25   23   1   1   .940 |  100   17   4.000   0.680 |  22
2011   20   13   3   4   .750 |   41   17   2.050   0.850 |  27
2010   18   15   1   2   .889 |   48    8   2.667   0.444 |  29
2009    8    7   0   1   .938 |   12    1   1.500   0.125 |  29
2008   36   33   1   2   .944 |   84   17   2.333   0.472 |  30
--- Greg Ryan (2005-2007 --------------------------------------
2007   24   19   1   4   .875 |   62   17   2.583   0.708 |  27
2006   22   18   0   4   .909 |   57   10   2.591   0.455 |  29
2005    9    8   0   1   .944 |   24    0   2.667   0.000 |  30
--- Heinrichs (2000-2004) -------------------------------------
2004   34   28   2   4   .882 |  104   23   3.059   0.676 |  27
2003   23   17   2   4   .826 |   58   14   2.522   0.609 |  30
2002   19   15   2   2   .842 |   69   11   3.632   0.579 |  33
2001   10    3   5   2   .400 |   13   15   1.300   1.500 |  44
2000*  38   24   6   8   .737 |  113   29   2.974   0.763 |  44
--- Gregg (interim, 2000) -------------------------------------
2000*   3    2   0   1   .833 |   11    2   3.667   0.667 |   -
--- DiCicco (1995-1999) ---------------------------------------
1999   29   25   2   2   .897 |  111   15   3.828   0.517 |  35
1998   25   22   1   2   .920 |   89   12   3.560   0.480 |  38
1997   18   16   2   0   .889 |   67   13   3.722   0.722 |  37
1996   24   21   1   2   .917 |   80   17   3.333   0.708 |  26
1995   23   19   2   2   .870 |   82   16   3.565   0.696 |  24
--- Dorrance (1986-1994) --------------------------------------
1994   13   12   1   0   .923 |   59    6   4.538   0.462 |  22
1993   17   13   4   0   .765 |   54    7   3.176   0.412 |   °
1992    2    0   2   0   .000 |    3    7   1.500   3.500 |   °
1991   28   21   6   1   .768 |  122   22   4.357   0.786 |   °
1990    6    6   0   0   .000 |   26    3   4.333   0.500 |   °
1989    1    0   0   1   .500 |    0    0   0.000   0.000 |   °
1988    8    3   3   2   .500 |   10    9   1.250   1.125 |   °
1987   11    6   4   1   .591 |   23    9   2.091   0.818 |   °
1986    6    4   2   0   .667 |   10    6   1.667   1.000 |   °
--- Mike Ryan (1985) ------------------------------------------
1985    4    0   3   1   .125 |    3    7   0.750   1.750 |   °

Key
MP: Total Matches Played
W: Wins
L: Losses
T: Ties (Draws)
WIN%: Win Percentage (a tie counts as a half win)
GF: Goals For
GA: Goal Against/Allowed
GFA: Goals For Average (per match)
GAA: Goals Against Average (per match)
PU: Players Utilized (number of players who earned at least one cap)

Notes:
^The 2012 stats are through September 19th (Sundhage's last match).
*The 44 players utilized in 2000 have been attributed all to Heinrichs.
°The number of players utilized in 1993 and earlier is not readily available, as detailed annual player statistics tables in the USWNT Media Guide only goes back to 1994.

* * *

SOURCES

General:

Mike Ryan:

Anson Dorrance:

Tony DiCicco:

Lauren Gregg:

April Heinrichs:

Greg Ryan:

Pia Sundhage:

See Also -- USWNT: In Search Of… The Next Head Coach