Sermanni ‘not that close’ to picking USWNT World Cup squad, looking beyond Starting XI

USWNT Tom Sermanni directing Leroux ISI

Photo by ISIPhotos.com

By CAITLIN MURRAY

With each match the U.S. Women’s National Team plays, the roster for the 2015 World Cup and qualifiers later this year feels that much closer. But how close is coach Tom Sermanni to having his squad picked out?

“Not that close, to be honest,” Sermanni told SBI via phone before embarking on a three-game tour that ended in Atlanta earlier this month. “To be frank, at times I feel that I get close and then the competition is so intense in this squad that I get close and players keep changing my mind by performing well.

“It’s a very difficult squad to be close to a starting 11.”

Spectators have been eager to look for clues and common threads in Sermanni’s line-ups to figure out what he might do when the 2015 World Cup rolls around. But Sermanni hasn’t made it easy – he’s given 11 players their first caps since taking the job in January 2013 and tried 16 different line-ups in 16 games last year.

In some cases, Sermanni had no choice – the U.S. women faced a handful of injuries and some friendlies were scheduled outside of FIFA dates, meaning many European-based USWNT players stayed away. But Sermanni also faces difficult choices because the USWNT bench is stacked to the brim with talent.

“To say I know right now what I’m doing in a year’s time would be unrealistic – partly because I think there’s more depth than perhaps there’s been at any stage in the past,” Sermanni said.

Canada will host the World Cup in summer 2015, but first the USWNT must get through October qualifiers in Cancun and Playa del Carmen in Mexico. Qualifiers are unlikely to give the USWNT any trouble and if the rest of CONCACAF hasn’t made significant improvements in the past year, the matches are unlikely to offer much insight, either.

Domestic friendlies will be of limited help. The USWNT crushed Russia 7-0 and 8-0 in two stateside games this month. U.S. Soccer announced last week the USWNT will play China in April – another opponent the USWNT should surely rout with ease.

Next month’s Algarve Cup becomes all the more important. The USWNT will face No. 3-ranked Japan, who beat the U.S. in the 2011 World Cup final, as well as No. 6-ranked Sweden and No. 12-ranked Denmark. The U.S. will play two friendlies in June against No. 5-ranked France, but unless U.S. Soccer can bring in some more heavy-hitters later in the year, the annual Algarve Cup will remain a key benchmark for Sermanni’s evaluations.

“Friendlies are an opportunity to tweak things a little bit,” Sermanni said. While last year was a time for experimentation, Sermanni added, “performance and results become much more critical this year.”

Sermanni’s process of narrowing down his 23-woman World Cup squad is mainly about looking at the players by position, he said – that is, who are the team’s best forwards, midfielders and defenders? The USWNT has eight strikers that would be starting forwards on any other international squad in the world, he added – Christen Press, Abby Wambach, Sydney Leroux, Amy Rodriguez, Alex Morgan, Sarah Hagen, Lindsay Horan and Lauren Holiday.

“When push comes to shove, you have to compare Sarah Hagen to Abby Wambach and Lindsay Horan to Abby Wambach,” Sermanni said, juxtaposing the USWNT’s most-capped forward and world record-holder to the squad’s two most inexperienced forwards. “That’s what you do and sometimes you find yourself a bit thin in some positions. Then you’ve got the possibility that you might start to look at transporting a player from one position to another.”

Defenders pose a different problem for Sermanni. He admits the back line is “probably not as settled as we are in other positions, to be honest.” He blames a revolving door of injuries, but also points to a need for future planning as the back line lacks the depth of the front.

“It’d be great if I could know Christie (Rampone) is going to be OK for another two years, but I’ve also got a be a coach cognizant of the fact that might not happen,” Sermanni said, adding that 38-year-old Rampone remains an “unbelievable” defender and stalwart leading the back four. “I don’t want to be caught putting a player in a critical position that hasn’t played in games that matter.”

The final category Sermanni looks at is his “utility players” – that’s the group that “can play in several different positions,” he said. His go-to examples are Crystal Dunn and Kristie Mewis, who played midfield at the collegiate level but have mostly been converted outside backs for the USWNT.

Those utility players could be important additions to the World Cup roster as Sermanni looks outside a starting 11. The coaching staff must be “able to make changes as seamlessly as you can from game to game” and account for the depth of the USWNT, Sermanni said.

“When we go into 2015, I don’t think this World Cup is going to be about a starting 11,” he said. “I think it’s going to be about a squad.”

“I always like to qualify myself because I’m very new at the job, but I think there’s been a notion in the U.S. that there is a starting 11 and I think we’re very much in a situation where it’s a squad game – and we’ve got a very, very strong squad. So, the starting 11 is potentially going to vary even when we get to the World Cup.”

——

What do you think of Sermanni’s approach to selecting his 2015 World Cup squad? Who would you put on the World Cup squad? Who do you think will make the cut?

Share your thoughts below.

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48 Responses to Sermanni ‘not that close’ to picking USWNT World Cup squad, looking beyond Starting XI

  1. RB says:

    Nice piece, thanks!

    “the USWNT must get through October qualifiers in Cancun and Playa del Carmen in Mexico. Qualifiers are unlikely to give the USWNT any trouble…”

    I remember thinking that leading up to them there the last time around. Then I became one of the very few who has attended a match the USWNT has lost (especially to Mexico!)…

    • Jacknut says:

      How does qualifying work for the women? I’m guessing it’s a tournament rather than an extended series of matches like the men.

      • Ann says:

        It’s like a tournament.. kind of similar to the CONCACAF Olympics qualifying games in Vancouver for London Olympics.

      • Joe+G says:

        The lower ranked nations (like the Caribbean islands) have their own tournament and then the top 8 CONCACAF teams (minus Canada) play in tournament style. CONCACAF gets 3 automatic slots (plus Canada) and the 4th place team plays the 3rd place team in CONMEBOL.

    • Alex H says:

      With the expanded WC field qualification will be much easier, which is a shame, because tight qualification campaigns produce some very good soccer.

  2. JoeW says:

    I’m not. Press has a good future. But in terms of the NT, her present is not at forward. If she’s going to be a factor in the near-term, it would need to be at another position. That’s why players like Dunn are playing other positions with the NT. And that’s why Sermani is talking about taking some of his existing forward talent and playing it at other positions as well.

  3. VaFan says:

    I am still puzzled and dismayed by how little use Sermanni has made of his youngest players in the 2014 friendlies — very little Tymrak, absolutely no Johnston, very little Press, etc. How did that help with the depth questions?
    And the other side of the coin is: Why on earth play Wambach, Lloyd, O’Reilly, and Rapinoe so extensively, especially in the blow-out Russia matches? We know what they can do. How about finding out what Brian, Tymrak, Johnston, Press, and others such as Hagen can do? I think Johnston is particularly important if there are any concerns about Rampone playing through the World Cup and she hasn’t been off the bench in 2014.
    I would feel a lot more confident about the Algarve Cup and the much bigger events beyond if these younger players had been getting more time on the pitch.

    • seg says:

      Because fans drive on ice to come to see Wambach.

      You can’t deny that. Wambach is still fans’ favorite, she still gets the loudest chanting.

      • kernel thai says:

        But the fans driving on ice dont say “I didnt get my money’s worth because some player didnt play 90 minutes” Fans do want to see the veterans and it’s their money but no one boos when u take a veteran off at 60 minutes and a younger players comes in.

        • seg says:

          They would love to see their favorite player play 90 mins.
          Don’t tell me you always switch off the TV at 60min and think you’ve had too much fun.

      • Ezra says:

        The fans won’t care who is out there if they win the the World Cup. That’s all that really matters, not who’s playing.

    • Alex H says:

      I think you have to give Sermanni the benefit of the doubt…..so long as we keep winning. Positions are won in practice and it might just be the case that the people who he puts on the field were the ones that showed the best in practice. Maybe the grand dames are on the field because they just out played the young guns. If that is the case I am OK with it.

    • JoeW says:

      And yet, as the article points out, 11 new players got caps last year and Sermani utilized 16 different lineups. And…as the article also points out…there really aren’t that many competitive games between now and WCQs.

      Here’s a thought folks….some of players may actually WANT those call ups. It’s extra money (at a time that some of them are out of season or not with a foreign club). If you regard yourself as a team leader, you may want to be in a NT camp. You may want to be with your friends.

      I actually think that Sermani has done a decent job at balancing the new faces and the vets.

      • Ezra says:

        Nobody’s saying the vets shouldn’t get called up. They are just questioning why players continue to get 90 minutes while others get peanuts. For instance, Press leads the team with 3 goals this year… yet she hasn’t even played a full 90 minutes. And Wambach again leads all forwards in minutes. Why? What benefit does that provide?

        • JoeW says:

          First, Sermani has done a pretty good job in my book of bringing in new players–11 new players got caps–that’s a lot for a well-established women’s NT. Actually, that’s a phenomenal number.

          Second, one of the best ways to integrate new players is NOT to throw out a lineup of all new players but to make sure that some rocks are out there…players like Wambach or Rampone. You put new players in a position to succeed. That means simplifying the game for them, surrounding them with veteran players who can lead on the field, and not playing them 90 minutes. You either take them off before the full game so you can point out lessons when they’re fresh (like the run they should have made 2 minutes ago, not 40 minutes ago when a host of other actions have taken place). Or they go in the game as a second half sub when tactics are simpler and their role is more clearly defined.

          As Sermani pointed out, he’s got so many talented forwards that he’s going to look at moving some to defense or midfield. And you’re arguing that Press should get more minutes? Realistically, if Press were to get more minutes, it would mean playing outside back or outside midfield. B/c at this stage, that’s her only real hope of contributing to this NT cycle (barring some major injuries). Not an indictment of Press, just an acknowledgement of the talent on the frontline of this NT group. Any forward who wants to play and their name isn’t Wambach, Leroux, or Morgan needs to be a pretty good defender.

          • Ezra says:

            Press isn’t the only one, but yes, I do think she deserves more time. If you think being #4 on the depth chart means that you’re gonna see no time, then you’re gonna have very weak depth. All it takes is two injuries or red cards and #4 is now a starter. What if the world cup final roles around and 2 out of Wambach/Morgan/Leroux can’t play? Are you comfortable enough with someone who’s had under 20 caps in the position being the starter? Someone who has spent the year only playing in mid or defense as you say she should? Because if not, you need to give them more time… which is all I was suggesting… You don’t need to turn the team upside down to do this and you don’t need to have Wambach, HAO, Rampone, and Solo play every single minute in order to maintain the proper team balance and chemistry. He has already shown he can get a new player significant minutes if he’s so inclined… just look at Morgan Brian. She has less caps total than Press, but so far this year, she is leading in minutes…

          • orangecleats says:

            Your argument about the way to integrate new players makes sense. However, players have different styles and advantages/weakness that affect/are affected by the style of play – and that should be taken into account. For example, the current team has Abby as a main part of the attack and that is a big part of the kind of soccer they play not only in the final 3rd but through the midfield as well. When new players get minutes it is important to make adjustments because their best attributes are different and you definitely want to use those, not have them play a role that’s not suited to them. Moving Press to a different position is a completely ludicrous idea. Firstly, because that would be a waste of her talent and secondly because it is absolutely possible for her to be one of the two best performing forwards leading to the WC (I cannot even imagine how you justify the claim that she can’t play as a forward). Right now she is one of the best two, granted Morgan is currently injured, but it really doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see Press challenging for that 2nd forward spot next to Morgan. And yes, for me, a healthy Morgan is the only one whose WC starting spot is close to being a given at this point.

  4. Paul6 says:

    Good article but Lauren Holiday isn’t a forward.

    • Caitlin Murray says:

      Tom Sermanni identified Lauren Holiday as a forward and said she was moved to midfield for the national team. That list is exactly who he named and in the order he said it.

    • Ezra says:

      She played forward in college, was originally called up to the USWNT as a forward, and is even listed as a forward on the FC Kansas City roster. So, I think it’s fairly accurate to say she’d be a starting forward on most other national team rosters.

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  6. JC in CT says:

    The depth of the WNT is incredible and has been so for quite some time. It’s a nice problem to have.

  7. seg says:

    tom told us nothing…He just beat around the bush.
    He already has a good idea who will make the roster, unless injuries issues. But he won’t tell us…
    Let the guess continue.

    • Alex H says:

      Of course he told us nothing. Show me a soccer coach that is completely transparent and forthcoming and I will show you the worlds first soccer coach that is completely transparent and forthcoming.

    • JoeW says:

      A WC is approaching (well, qualification). Every smart NT coach (men’s or women’s) is saying stuff like: “my roster isn’t set” or “I don’t know who’s going to start” or “American players need to compete harder for European starting roles–they’re too complacent” or “I don’t know if Landon Donovan will start.” That’s about motivation. About throwing down the gauntlet. About getting marginal players to believe they have a shot at making the team. About getting subs to believe they could start. About getting starters from believing they can coast. And it raise the level of competition tremendously. Which for the US Women is critical b/c it’s nearly impossible for them to get good competition outside of a WC year–very few countries support their women’s programs in a non-WC year.

  8. kernel thai says:

    He has two things to do…gel the starters and choose the balance of the roster. Unfortunately, one seems to get in the way of the other. If he plays starters together for significant minutes, the subs only get cameos and we learn nothing. If he gives his subs starts he’s isnt working on the chemistry of the starting team. It’s frustrating. Hopefully he is making most of his decisions on the second 12 at practice cause they arent getting enough game minutes for a fair evaluation.

  9. lightcomingon says:

    With the depth this team has, I too think that it is more important to focus on whole squad rather than starting XI at this point. Look at how Pia used the bench in WC 2011. Some of the subs she made were masterstrokes.

    I do like that Sermanni is trying out lots of new players. They are the future and I imagine will get more playing time as 2014 progresses. That being said, it will be interesting to see just how much he uses Wambach and Rampone in upcoming friendlies as well as 2014 Algarve. He didn’t hesitate to sit Wambach out for much of 2013 Algarve.

    From what I’ve seen since Sermanni’s tenure, he’s not afraid to mix up the starting XI and seems pretty even-handed in trying out new combinations. From what I’ve seen of the new players, ones that have impressed me at least have been Brian, Tymrack and Mewis at mid-field.

    Before this gets too long, I think the backline of Krieger, Engen, Sauerbrunn and O’Hara will be the norm.

    • seg says:

      I’m not a PIa fan…

      Personally I think she has super subs because she didn’t recognize the best starting 11 at that moment.

      Luckily, she was US’s head coach. TBH, the second best US line up is better than most if not all the other teams. Now she don’t have the luxury of so many good players, let’s see how far Sweden can go….

      US could have a better chance winning 2011 WC, if Pia had done a better job. Just my personal opinion.

  10. Suzie says:

    My Starting 11 for 2015 as of now would be:

    Goal: Solo
    Forwards: Morgan, Leroux
    Midfielders: Heath, Holiday, O’Reily, Rapinoe
    Defenders: O’Hara, Van Hollenback, Rampone, Saurbraun

    • Alex H says:

      I am actually thinking 3-5-2 because we have some sick athletes that scream “wing back”

      Fwd: Morgan, Leroux
      CMF: Heath, Holiday Rapinoe
      WB: Dunn, O’Reily
      CB: Rampone, Saurbraun, VanH

      If the formation isn’t clicking then Dunn can revert to fullback and Rapino can revert to an outside midfielder and we are back to what we have always done, no harm no foul.

      • Suzie says:

        Interesting Alex…..that is a possibility as well. I’m glad I’m not in Sermanni’s shoes…..Chemistry, fitness and speed will be key components to the decision. Looking to the Algarve Cup I’m hoping to see Heath back…..Morgan is still a question in my mind based on her last video post. Time will tell.

  11. Lu says:

    I think another key question is also the Goalkeepers – Solo and Barnhart and a definite but the 3rd spot is a question, they need to ensure a quality player is available, not just a bench warmer

    • Lynn says:

      Which is why I think you will be seeing a lot more Harris and younger players in camp. Most likely this is Solo’s last cycle, so why not have someone who is going to be the “next coming” I also agree about the backline of Krieger, Engen, Sauerbrunn and O’Hara. There is no way Sermanni isn’t going to start Krieger and Sauerbrunn in my opinion. The other two might be rotating but I think those two have some great chemistry and provide the “veteran” status for a strong backline.

      • z says:

        I’ve honestly never understood why people think so highly of Harris. When I’ve seen her play she’s had pretty bad positioning and very questionable decision making, and considering her age, those are things that should have gotten better by now. She should, in all honesty, be below the likes of Franch and Naeher on the depth chart, and considering that Naeher was named to the Algarve roster she seems to be. Loyden is questionable as well but apparently she’s a better training partner than Harris is and that’s really all a third choice keeper should be. As it stands now it seems that the depth chart for keepers is: Solo, Barnhart, Loyden, Naeher, Franch, Harris.

        • Ezra says:

          I never understand why people are so down on Harris. Sure she’s not the best in the world. But she would be a starter for any NT that’s not ranked in the top 2. Her main problem, IMHO, is that injuries have prevented her from reaching her full potential. But even so, last season in the NWSL she was better than both Loyden and McLeod, while playing on the worst team in the league. That should tell you something. What she needs is to spend more time with top tier goalkeeper coaches (like the USWNT has) to improve those areas she’s weakest at. Sitting at home is not gonna help her improve.

        • FootballFan808 says:

          Ashlyn Harris had a fantastic run in the youth National Team camps and games. Ash did rupture both ACLs at UNC, but has come back long and hard. She may ONLY have two caps for the team, but is showing promise and had been battling with the other goalkeepers. She is working her hardest to get fit and stay healthy. She knows her role well and does not have bad form what so ever from what I’ve seen from the Sweden and Dutch game last season. She played her hardest in the NWSL also.

  12. Patti says:

    I would not discount LePeilbet coming back…has experience and plays great under pressure…she may be better than ever after her ACL surgery….she was playing hurt for a long time and still came through. Wambach will be a factor..she is hungry for that World cup win!

  13. Lynn says:

    I haven’t seen any llyod in these lineups which I find quite interesting. Similar to Wambach and Solo I believe she is just as hungry to prove they can win the World Cup.

  14. Lynn says:

    Realized my mistake haha. Dang iPhone. Lloyd ;)

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  16. Janine says:

    Good article! We have unbelievable depth at most positions! I think we have to start to sure up our keepers. Solo is the best but if injured, Barnhart ok but Jill no! Want to see Harris a little more since she is the only one who has been playing continuously ! Any thoughts?

  17. Becky says:

    I always wondered why Lloyden got NT call ups when she wasn’t even playing for her club team. During games she seems to get shaken easily when scored upon. And in terms of being a good training partner that isn’t going to help the team if 1st or 2nd string keepers get injured. You need someone who is able to hold their nerve in games which in my opinion is Harris, Naeher or even Franch.

    • zsettko says:

      always and thought that the biggest problem of sermmani serious if shannon boxx does not return to wwc 2015 no other player able to do what she does and will be a big problem solving that. I think q julie johnston and brian uncalibrate morgan play well there but tom Julie has not given practically ningura Hance and the truth q I think julie is world-class.

      for me it is much better in defense stephanie cox q kristi mewis.?

  18. zsettko says:

    I am somewhat dissatisfied with tom since he has not given opportunities to johnston, she is very good and world class to play football and always leave it out the lists and parties, she can do a similar work of the best driving worldwide shannon boxx containment.

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