Now that we've all clapped Pia Sundhage off for the final time, another chapter is approaching for the U.S. Women's National Team. U.S. Soccer has already tapped Jill Ellis to take over on an interim basis, but she's made clear she has no intention of pursuing the permanent head coach job. Interviews for the position are ongoing, but with the next major tournament nearly three years away, now is as good a time as any to find the right person who the job.
Of the 30 or so people who reportedly inquired about the job, three names have been tossed around a lot lately - Paul Riley, Randy Waldrum and Tony DiCicco. So, who are these potential replacements?
Currently: Head Coach, NY Fury (WPSL Elite)
Previously: CW Post, Long Island Rough Riders, Long Island Fury (WPSL), Philadelphia Independence (WPS)
1. Paul Riley has magic powers. Most notably, he got Amy Rodriguez to score goals. That A-Rod has just 25 goals, because field goals don't count in this kind of football, in 96 caps is a statistic not lost on anyone who follows the USWNT. But when Rodriguez played for Riley's Philadelphia Independence in WPS? Seventeen goals in 37 appearances. Granted, it's still not a great average, but considering Rodriguez scored just once in 17 games with the Boston Breakers, it's something.
And A-Rod isn't the only one to receive the magic Paul Riley confidence boost. Just about everyone else who came through Philly seemed to flourish under the Liverpool native. Riley brought the Independence all the way to the WPS final as an expansion side in 2010 before falling to FC Gold Pride. A year later the Indys were back in the championship, losing to the Western NY Flash on penalty kicks.
Even without capturing a WPS title, that he brought two teams comprised almost wholly of WPS's spare parts all the way to the edge of the Promised Land is pretty impressive. Those Philly teams were about tactics, technical, gritty, a little gutsy, not particularly flashy, and they bought into what their coach was selling 100 percent. Of course, Paul Riley's Philadelphia sides were built by Paul Riley, and the USWNT, that's a whole other thing.
2. Paul Riley speaks his mind. There was no one in WPS who was more quotable in a post-match mixed zone than Riley. Whether it was cracking a joke about lightning delays, sneaking a curse word or two or three into an answer, or hilariously mispronouncing his own players' names, Riley always had something interesting to say. More than once "Baguette" was the star of the show for Philadelphia, but this French bread was actually a Spanish midfielder named Vero Boquete.
Never afraid of a little honesty, Paul Riley Shares His Thoughts didn't stop at the mixed zone. There was the time he called out Sundhage in Philly Soccer News
[Rodriguez] is just dead as a doornail right now. She needs help. Pia just absolutely destroyed her, sad to say. We did everything to help Pia out this year, but she did nothing to help WPS out this year. Nothing.
But hey, who hasn't heard the ol' "animosity for your incredibly well-respected predecessor is always the thing that gets you the job" adage? And might it be nice to have a coach who actually acknowledges that it wasn't the best game, when, you know, it wasn't?
Riley has a knack for taking some weird combination of things that don't work and making them work really well. Like say, the USWNT's back line. He's also got a ton of personality, quite like Pia Sundhage, except not like Pia Sundhage at all, because Pia Sundhage lacked the ability to be anything but jolly. He also might not sing to the team. Or maybe he would. I have no idea how much Bob Dylan he knows.
He has good tactical sense and favors a more technical build-from-the-back game than Sundhage, which is great and fun to watch, except the center of the U.S. midfield is a strange, strange place. Riley could probably do some impressive things with a team that's already really good, but the players would have to buy into Riley's system, which might be a tough sell for some of the vets.
The biggest question though is whether he really fits into U.S. Soccer's world. Riley has talked in the past about players who should be starting for the USWNT, players who aren't even in the player pool. His tell-it-like-it-is approach is so opposite the silver lining we've been living in, his dapper suits a far cry from swishy Swooshy pants, names not the ones we're used to. If we're talking on field he's the guy. If we want refreshing roster changes then hire this man. Ultimately though, the whole Paul Riley package may be a little too far outside the Federation's comfort zone.
Currently: Head Coach, University of Notre Dame Women, U.S. Under-23 Women
Previously: Austin College, Texas Wesleyan, University of Tulsa, and Baylor
1. If there was some sort of official line of succession, Waldrum's gig at the helm of the U-23's basically makes him Speaker of the House. Jill Ellis, assistant coach/current interim head coach/Vice President for our purposes, doesn't want the job permanently. Mr. Speaker, are you there?
Waldrum has only had the U-23 job since January, and team's only played a handful of matches with him in charge, compiling a so-so record of 3-2-1. More importantly though, may be that the position gives Waldrum a direct connection to the pipeline for the full team. While many of the names we've come to know and love/hate/hate-love have expressed interest in playing the 2015 World Cup in Canada, a few could be trading in that FIFA Credential for a Life Alert soon. But really, with more than a few of the senior side's stars pushing 30 and beyond and a major tournament still three years away, some turnover is bound to happen soon.
Waldrum's also been in the college game for about as long as some of the older players have been alive, which is another good pipeline. That is especially true with a pro league nothing more than rumors and rumblings from Sunil Gulati and one oddly-timed press release at this point. Waldrum is familiar with the next generation, which given the current player pool, makes him the logical choice for a long-term coach, if nothing else.
2. Randy Waldrum can win. From 1999 to 2011 Waldrum compiled a 263-44-14 record at Notre Dame. The Irish are 10-3-2 so far this season, and have won two national championships under Waldrum, in 2004 and 2010. The team has made appearances in the College Cup in eight of Waldrum's 13 years as head coach. Of the current USWNT, only Shannon Boxx played under Waldrum, but he's coached against plenty of them. Take 2010, when Waldrum's Notre Dame shut down Olympic alternate Christen Press en route the national championship.
Waldrum is a guy who's going to play U.S. Soccer's game. He's a part of the program already and has his hand on the pulse of the up-and-comers. He's a safe choice, and the logical, status quo one.
Currently: ESPN Soccer Analyst/Person Who Looks Almost Orange Enough on TV To Be The Much Older Lost Jersey Shore Cast Member/Max Bretos and Bob Ley Interrupter
Previously: U. S. Women, U. S. U-20 Women, Boston Breakers (WPS)
1. Tony DiCicco has been a part of the only two U.S. teams that have won a World Cup. DiCicco was the goalkeeper coach when the USWNT won the inaugural Women's World Cup in 1991 and in 1999 he was the head coach when the team topped China on penalties for a second title. DiCicco also won a gold medal in the 1996 Olympics and coached the U.S. to victory in the 2008 U-20 World Cup. From 1994 to 1999 he compiled a record of 103-8-8.
His tenure with the Boston Breakers of WPS didn't go quite as well, though. His WPS side failed to make the playoffs in 2009, finished second on the table in 2010 before being knocked out in the semi-final, and squeaked into the post-season only to be eliminated in the first round in 2011. The team went 22-26-14 all-time under DiCicco, and he often frustrated Boston supporters as the Breakers went through long slumps, including a nine-game winless run to start the 2010 season.
DiCicco is plenty familiar with most of the player pool, having either coached or played against them at some point. Amy LePeilbet, Heather Mitts, Amy Rodriguez, Rachel Buehler, Lauren Cheney, Stephanie Cox, Meghan Klingenberg, Kelley O'Hara, and Person-We-All-Want-Back-in-the-USWNT-Picture-Who's-Not-Named-Lori-Chalupny Leslie Osborne all played for DiCicco's Breakers.
2. DiCicco has been here before. But does he really want to go back? DiCicco stepped down from the Breakers following the 2011 season, telling The Equalizer that it was "mostly a personal decision" about wanting to spend more time with his wife at their home in Connecticut. That is not where the Home Depot Center, the 2015 World Cup or the 2016 Olympics are. It is however, where ESPN is located.
Things are very different from the last time DiCicco captained this ship, both within the culture of the USWNT and how much the rest of the world has caught up. DiCicco seems like a pretty unlikely choice, but if there is one thing we know about the USWNT it is that familiar names are too often favorite names.