At the end of today’s US women’s national team (USWNT)’s game against Costa Rica, Pia Sundhage, the coach of the team for the last five years, announced that she is leaving her position. After their upcoming games against Australia on September 16 and 19, Sundhage will go home to Sweden to coach their national team.
Under Sundhage, the USWNT won two Olympic gold medals and were runners up to Japan in the 2011 World Cup. They have had 88 wins, 6 loses, and 10 draws. Sundhage took the position following the USA’s disappointing 2007 World Cup run. In the semifinals that year against Brazil, Greg Ryan, the head coach at the time, chose not to play Hope Solo as goalkeeper. It was a controversial decision as the USWNT lost 4-0. Ryan was fired shortly thereafter and Sundhage hired.
Following the match today (which the USWNT won 8-0!), Sundhage announced her decision, saying:
It’s a really difficult decision to make. You can imagine being around those (players) and they have made me look good. I have become so much better as a coach, but the fact that I want to go home and Sweden is hosting the European Championship [in 2013] — still I feel it’s really hard.
Sundhage played for the Swedish national team from 1975 to 1996, during which time she scored 71 international goals.
According to The New York Times, Sundhage sang to the crowd today: “Taking a microphone, Sundhage turned to the fans and belted out a few lines of Bob Dylan’s “If Not For You,” her way of thanking the crowd and saying goodbye.”
She literally couldn’t have gone out in a more Sundhage way. Two days before the World Cup final match last year, she sang Simon and Garfunkel during the press conference. And after winning the gold medal last month in London, she sang “Born in the U.S.A.” during an interview with NBC.
What happens now to USWNT is uncertain. They are clearly at a high point, so much so that there is serious discussion of a new professional women’s soccer league in the US, riding the momentum of the Olympic win. The president of US Soccer, Sunil Gulati, refused to talk about possible candidates for the job, though he did say that the search for the new coach would start soon.