U.S. coach faces her legacy

U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, supervising a practice, today goes against her native Sweden, where she is still the face of women’s soccer.

Associated Press

U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, supervising a practice, today goes against her native Sweden, where she is still the face of women’s soccer.

WOLFSBURG, Germany — With a spot in the quarterfinals secured, the United States wraps up group play today against coach Pia Sundhage's native Sweden.

Though Sundhage is nonplussed by facing her home country ("For me, it's not Sweden. It's just a team."), the game puts the spotlight on the woman whose intelligence, confidence and unflinching optimism transformed a fractured team into the 2008 Olympic gold medalist and a strong contender for its third World Cup championship.

"Everything that we had hoped for in making the decision to hire her, she's lived up to," U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said.

Sundhage, 51, is one of the greatest players the women's game has had, scoring 71 goals in a 22-year international career. She is still the face of women's soccer in Sweden, which she led to the first European championship in 1984 and the bronze medal at the inaugural World Cup in 1991.

Sundhage remains so celebrated in Sweden her name was floated as a possible coach of the men's team after it failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. She was considered for the U.S. job when Greg Ryan was hired in 2005 but didn't have enough head coaching experience. Though she coached Boston in 2003 before the WUSA league folded, most of her experience was with Sweden's youth teams. When the Americans were in the market for a coach again in 2007, Sundhage's name topped the list.

The Beijing Olympics were eight months away when she was hired in November 2007, but the first issue she had to address was tensions still simmering from that year's World Cup. The Americans were favorites to win, carrying a 51-game unbeaten streak into the semifinals against Brazil. But Ryan made the surprise decision to start goalie Briana Scurry instead of Hope Solo, who had a shutout streak of nearly 300 minutes going and had started all but four of the Americans' 19 games that season.

The result was a 4-0 loss, the worst defeat in U.S. history. Afterward, Solo ripped Ryan's decision, and Ryan dismissed Solo from the team.

The Americans won the third-place game, but the damage was done. A month later, Ryan was told his contract would not be renewed when it expired in December.

"I don't expect them to forget what happened … but I expect them to forgive," Sundhage said of the team. "We moved on."

Tuesday's games: Germany and England won to finish first in their groups and move into the quarterfinals. Germany benched its best player, Birgit Prinz, because of poor play, but it beat France 4-2 to win Group A. England staved off the threat of early elimination with a 2-0 win over Japan for the top spot in Group B. The results set up Germany against Japan and England against France on Saturday in the quarters. Also Tuesday, New Zealand tied Mexico 2-2, and Nigeria beat Canada 1-0.

Today's schedule
Gm Group When TV Matchup
21 C 2:45 p.m. ESPN U.S. vs. Sweden
22 C 2:45 p.m. ESPN2 North Korea vs. Colombia
23 D noon ESPN Equatorial Guinea vs. Brazil
24 D noon ESPN2 Australia vs. Norway
United States schedule, Group C
Gm When TV Matchup
21 2:45 p.m. today ESPN U.S. vs. Sweden


Women's World Cup

Top two in each group advance:

GROUP A

GP W D L GF GA Pts

France 2 2 0 0 5 0 6

Germany 2 2 0 0 3 1 6

Nigeria 2 0 0 2 0 2 0

Canada 2 0 0 2 1 6 0

GROUP B

GP W D L GF GA Pts

Japan 2 2 0 0 6 1 6

England 2 1 1 0 3 2 4

Mexico 2 0 1 1 1 5 1

New Zealand 2 0 0 2 2 4 0

GROUP C

GP W D L GF GA Pts

United States 2 2 0 0 5 0 6

Sweden 2 2 0 0 2 0 6

North Korea 2 0 0 2 0 3 0

Colombia 2 0 0 2 0 4 0

GROUP D

GP W D L GF GA Pts

Brazil 2 2 0 0 4 0 6

Australia 2 1 0 1 3 3 3

Norway 2 1 0 1 1 3 3

Equ. Guinea 2 0 0 2 2 4 0

U.S. coach faces her legacy 07/05/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 6, 2011 1:19am]

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