Things were starting to look up for the U.S. women’s national team (USWNT) on Sunday after a solid 2-0 victory against China PR. But a few hours after the game ended, U.S. Soccer announced the dismissal of head coach Tom Sermanni.
Sermanni started coaching the team just over a year ago, following the departure of Pia Sundhage and the USWNT’s gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics. But just 24 matches into his career as head coach – and with a contract through 2016 – he was abruptly sacked. Julie Foudy told espnW that Sermanni “had no idea this was coming,” and that he was informed of his release by U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati and CEO Dan Flynn.
The decision comes a month after the USWNT posted two losses at the Algarve Cup, an annual tournament in Portugal. Many thought the timing was odd, given the two-game series the team’s amid now, and wondered why U.S. Soccer officials – if they knew they were going to fire him – didn’t do so directly after the Algarve Cup losses. Foudy said of Gulati, however, that he is “very thorough and does not come to decisions quickly.” But the Women’s World Cup is just over a year away; why wait another month if there was any doubt this wasn’t the head coach they wanted preparing the team?
Sermanni’s critics may have been concerned with his constant lineup changes, especially as they pertained to the back line. The starting back four weren’t solidified, much less the starting 11, and the lineup churn was a factor people pointed to after the Algarve Cup. Following the losses, Abby Wambach told Sports Illustrated: “We haven’t really been playing the way we normally play. I think there’s been a lot of factors. I know Tom likes to switch up the lineup quite a bit, which is very different than what we’ve been used to.”
Despite these criticisms, Sermanni boasted an overall record of 18-2-4. In the almost 30-year history of U.S. women’s soccer, he was not the first coach to lose two games during his or her first year. Below, we compared the win percentages of the six head coaches in U.S. women’s soccer history (not including interim coaches or Mike Ryan, who coached only four games) during their first 24 matches:
This doesn’t compare the strength of schedule (international tournaments vs. friendlies) and is solely based on the first 24 games, not a coach’s entire career. It’s clear that Sermanni was nowhere near as successful as his predecessor, Sundhage, who won her first 23 matches before posting one loss. However, Sermanni’s win percentage was still much better than Anson Dorrance’s and Tony DiCicco’s, and both of them went on to coach the USWNT for at least five years.
Based on Sermanni’s stats alone, the decision by U.S. Soccer seems rash — a .833 win percentage would be considered very good for most teams. But this is the women’s national team, not the men’s, and two losses is two more than Gulati clearly expects of the women.