U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati is dismissing the idea that any sort of player mutiny led to the firing of women’s coach Tom Sermanni.
The USSF fired Sermanni on Sunday, hours after an exhibition victory over China. The surprising move came just 16 months after Sermanni was put in charge.
“Our dialogue with the players is pretty much ongoing, both on the men’s side and the women’s side. Sometimes that is at a higher decibel than other times,” Gulati said Monday. “This isn’t a group of players coming to seek us out.”
The federation will begin looking for a new coach immediately, with the Women’s World Cup coming up next year and qualifying starting this fall.
Jill Ellis, the USSF’s director of development, will serve as interim coach. She went 5-0-2 in that role in 2012. The women’s team faces China again on Thursday in San Diego.
Sermanni helped the U.S. to a 13-0-3 record last year, but the Americans went 1-2-1 at the Algarve Cup, the last major tournament for the U.S. before World Cup qualifying. The seventh-place finish included a 1-0 loss to Sweden and former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, ending a two-year, 43-game unbeaten streak. That was the first loss following a 16-0-4 start under Sermanni.
“The standards for this team are very high. … That doesn’t mean one loss – or even two losses – would necessitate, or in our view, push us toward a change,” Gulati said. “It’s rare that everyone in a particular team finds a style that they buy into, but it’s important that the collective buy into the direction and how you’re moving forward, and we had some concerns there.”
Sermanni said he was “blindsided” by the move – a reaction Gulati said he could understand.
“To put it in a nutshell, they just felt that the way I was managing the team wasn’t working,” Sermanni told SI.com. “It could be the U.S. team is a unique team that has certain demands that perhaps my management style or my philosophy didn’t quite jell with.”
Goalkeeper Hope Solo tweeted Monday: “It’s a somber day for us all today. Tom is simply a classy man in every way, and he will certainly be missed.”
Sermanni was hired in October 2012, but Ellis served as interim coach until he took over that January. Sermanni made his debut in a 4-1 win over his native Scotland on Feb. 10, 2013. He spent the previous eight years coaching Australia’s women’s team, leading the Matildas to the quarterfinals of the last two World Cups.
Sundhage, hired in 2007, was the first foreign coach of the team following Mike Ryan, Anson Dorrance, Tony DiCicco, Lauren Gregg, April Heinrichs and Greg Ryan. The U.S. won World Cups in 1991 and `99, and the last three Olympic titles, plus 1996.
Gulati was asked if he felt a woman needed to be the coach for this particular team.
“I’ve said in the past, if we have a choice between two equal candidates, and one is male and one is female, then my preference would be to go with a female candidate,” he said. “Rarely is the situation where you have two exactly equal candidates. And by the way, the same would be true on an American coach. If we have two choices between an international coach and an American coach, my preference would be to hire an American coach. That’s true whether it’s the men’s side or the women’s side.”
Sermanni’s firing came about six months before North and Central American and Caribbean World Cup qualifying, which takes place from Oct. 16-26 at Cancun and Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
Gulati said there is a short list of candidates to replace Sermanni and a permanent hire would be determined in “the next days, and perhaps weeks.”
“The first consideration has to be picking the person that we think can best lead the program, that can keep it at the level that we’re all accustomed to, which means a gold medal performance next summer,” he said.