USWNT coaching search: 10 candidates who could replace Jill Ellis
The women's soccer classifieds just got interesting. The pressure is intense, the honeymoon period will be brief with the Olympics around the corner and your players are currently suing your bosses. But head coach of the United States women's national team is still a dream job.
And with Jill Ellis' decision to step down after the team's World Cup victory tour, the position is also open.
Even with Olympic qualifying around the corner, naming a new coach may take some time. First off, U.S. Soccer needs to fill the long-vacant general manager position for the women's team. But beyond that step, the federation cannot afford to get this decision wrong.
The previous two men hired for the biggest job in women's team sports, Tom Sermanni and Greg Ryan, saw their tenures end unceremoniously. The previous two women hired, Pia Sundhage and Ellis, won two Olympic gold medals and two World Cups. With U.S. Soccer already embroiled in an equal pay suit brought by 28 women's players, the gender question here is inescapable.
While Ellis was a beacon for women in coaching, leading the world's best team to back-to-back world titles, the outlook is decidedly less positive elsewhere. Female coaches have won just three NCAA titles. In the ACC and Pac-12, the two strongest conferences in the sport, female coaches are outnumbered. There is currently one full-time female coach in the National Women's Soccer League.
With all of that in mind, here are 10 candidates who could be next in line.
Vlatko Andonovski (Reign FC)
An unknown when hired as FC Kansas City coach in the early days of the NWSL, Andonovski quickly became as good an advertisement for that league's developmental potential as any player. Without the resources of some peers, FC Kansas City won back-to-back titles and played entertaining, attacking soccer in the process. Reign FC made the playoffs in his first season in the Pacific Northwest in 2018 and are again in the thick of the postseason race this summer. Although he was born in the former Yugoslavia and played in Europe, he lacks experience coaching at the international level. But from world-class stars to undrafted rookies, players respond to him.
Amanda Cromwell (UCLA)
If Westwood worked once, maybe it can again. Cromwell doesn't have the longevity that former UCLA coach Ellis did when hired, but the current Bruins coach has two trump cards. First, she won the NCAA title that long eluded Ellis. Second, she played for the women's national team and even won a gold medal in the 1996 Olympics. The NCAA title aside, Cromwell carries the same curse that followed Ellis. She recruits so well at UCLA that any year that ends short of a title feels like underachieving.
Erica Dambach (Penn State)
In addition to dominating the Big Ten on a regular basis and bringing Penn State its first national title in women's soccer in 2015, Dambach has valuable international experience. Along with Ellis, she was part of Sundhage's staff for the 2008 Olympics and 2011 World Cup. A good recruiter and well connected in the U.S. Soccer ecosystem, youth teams routinely stacked with her players or recruits, she also has demonstrated tactical flexibility when forced to adjust by injuries or international commitments. At 43 and after a decade-plus at State College, she might be ready for a new challenge.
Corinne Diacre (France)
This is on the longest side of long shots, but UEFA's qualifying mechanism means France will miss out on the Olympics after losing a World Cup quarterfinal against the U.S. So might the challenge of the No. 1 team and an immediate major tournament tempt Diacre? She is certainly no stranger to media scrutiny, either as France coach or previously as coach of the men's team Clermont Foot. Regardless of the quarterfinal result, France bedeviled the U.S. in recent years, including Diacre's tenure. She doesn't know the U.S. talent pool, but she knows how to blend athletic and technical ability. Although Sermanni's Scottish accent could be thick, the U.S. has never had a non-English speaking coach.
Laura Harvey (Utah Royals)
Harvey is likely to have a vocal base of support among fans -- and for good reason. The youngest candidate on this list at 39, she already has accumulated a resume. Hired as Arsenal manager before she was 30, she proceeded to win three consecutive league titles. She's still looking for her first NWSL title, but she led the Reign to the best regular-season record in back-to-back seasons. It cools her star a little that this could be her fourth consecutive season out of the playoffs, two in Seattle and now two in Utah, but her teams are always competitive. She appeared headed for a U.S. Soccer role after leaving Seattle, but that fell through. It's unclear what role that history might play in this process.
Shelley Kerr (Scotland)
Scotland is her home, but there is only so far a manager can go with that team at the moment. Qualifying for the World Cup is probably it. Might Kerr be tempted to move abroad and compete for world titles? She is a compelling figure, having managed both the Arsenal women's team and Stirling University FC, a men's team that competes in a Scottish pro league, before taking over as Scotland boss. Her time at Arsenal was a mixed bag, and Scotland tends more toward pragmatic than trendsetting in style of play, but she's a talented coach who has earned a bigger stage if she wants it. Maybe even the biggest.
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Tony Gustavsson (USWNT)
Would the top assistant consider making a permanent move to the U.S. if offered the job? Gustavsson still lives in Sweden when not working with the U.S., but he was a key part of the 2015 and 2019 World Cup titles. Even though it was Sundhage who first brought him aboard, Ellis trusted him implicitly to fine tune the attack. He was often the one communicating in-game commands from the sideline. A successful club coach who recruited the likes of Meghan Klingenberg to Sweden, he knows the European landscape, too.
Keidane McAlpine (USC)
Even for someone who won an NCAA title in 2016, this would be a rapid ascent. So call it a long shot, but McAlpine is as much of a rising star as there is in the college game at the moment. Despite the lead Stanford and UCLA had, he quickly rebuilt USC into a Pac-12 and national championship contender, playing the Atletico Madrid to their Real Madrid and Barcelona. His teams don't just try to out-athlete opponents, but he's a pragmatic tactician who doesn't appear locked into a single style. In a sport with diversity issues, he would be the first African-American coach of either the men's or women's national teams.
Steve Swanson (Virginia/USWNT)
Given U.S. struggles in youth tournaments of late, Swanson turned in one of the program's more impressive coaching performances in winning the 2012 U-20 World Cup. He had talent to work with -- Morgan Brian, Crystal Dunn, Julie Ertz and Sam Mewis -- but so did U.S. teams that fared far worse in youth soccer's signature international event. That should ease concerns about the lack of a title in his time at Virginia and Stanford. His college teams are known for playing technical soccer, and players love him. After serving as an assistant under Ellis, he knows the pool as well as anyone other than Gustavsson.
Paul Riley (North Carolina Courage)
Doesn't he at least have to be in the running? Riley is as well versed in the post-college American game as just about anyone on the planet. And his most recent work with the Courage, and its predecessor, the Western New York Flash, is arguably his best. The questions will be whether the English-born coach's style translates from the physical NWSL to international play, but there's no denying his ability to get the best out of players. He has never been shy to speak his mind about, well, anything, so his tenure would certainly be fun.