NWSL coaching carousel set to crank up? Sundhage, Harvey, Andonovski and others ponder moves
Though former U.S. women’s national team head coach Pia Sundhage did not say which NWSL team had offered her its coaching position, it’s highly likely that team was the Dash.
The Dash has been without a permanent head coach since dismissing Randy Waldrum early in the season, and with MLS backing from the club’s Dynamo side, it’s likely to be the NWSL’s most sought-after job this offseason.
Combine that with a void at general manager, a role Waldrum had inherited as Brian Ching phased out of Dash operations, and Houston’s job could be a chance to redefine a culture. Combine huge upside, low bar and relatively broad control, and you have many coaches’ dream scenario.
NWSL's rich getting richer
But Houston’s isn’t the only head coaching job that will be open this offseason. Sky Blue’s is already, thanks to the midseason departure of Christy Holly. Vlatko Andonovski’s future at FC Kansas City is in doubt, as is the franchise’s, and Seattle’s Laura Harvey continues to be a prominent candidate for the England women’s national team job.
For a league that has enjoyed huge coaching stability since its inception, it constitutes a potentially major shakeup, but it won’t be a shakeup without precedent. Though the average head coaching tenure has been roughly 2.6 years – a number that would rival MLS’ for the most longevity in the men’s game – the 2015-16 offseason saw six coaches come into new jobs: one through expansion (Orlando); two new NWSL bosses replacing old (Boston, Sky Blue); and three coaches shifting teams from their 2015 homes (Portland, Washington, Western New York).
The 2017-18 offseason is shaping up to be a combination of both. While only two jobs are open now, two others could open soon, with the effects on the market potentially creating a second round of coaching musical chairs.
Aiming high in Houston
Whether Sundhage is likely to end up with the Dash seems the subject of open debate. From one point of view, it is an ideal landing spot for somebody who could be looking to return to the United States. From another, the same issues that helped undermine Waldrum’s tenure need to be addressed before any coach can be successful.
Those issues are, to perhaps oversimplify things, twofold. First, there is a cultural issue with the Dash, one caused by the lack of staff above and around the playing squad and, before the coaching change, exacerbated by the lack of connection between Waldrum and his squad.
The upturn in results under Waldrum’s interim replacement, Omar Morales, spoke to the spirit within the team, but the core of that team appears increasingly disillusioned with an almost vacant front office, a barren support staff of undercompensated assistants and no sign of the team changing course.
That disillusionment is the second fold in Houston’s problem. Among many members of the playing squad, there seems to be a lack of confidence in the club, something that makes the Dash’s coaching hire all the more important. Pick the right person, and the core of the team may be willing to give the club another chance. An uninspiring hire, though, and Houston could be set for a tumultuous future.
By reputation, Sundhage would seem to qualify as an inspired choice. But Houston desperately needs somebody who is going to have an influence beyond the playing squad. It needs somebody who can also serve as the de facto general manager, handle recruitment, drafting, contract decisions, serve as an interface between upper management and the players and establish a culture that’s been so lacking over the Dash’s first four years.
As Tom Sermanni’s first year in Orlando showed, adapting from the international game to the NWSL carries a steep learning curve, but he had the veil of expansion to shield him from most criticism. Houston wants to win now. Is Sundhage going to drop in prepared to deal with scouting college prospects and grappling with the NWSL’s unique rules, as well as rebuilding a disillusioned squad?
The realities of Sky Blue
Compare that ambitious search with what’s happening at Sky Blue. After significant progress over the preceding season-and-a-half, the New Jersey-based club parted with the man who orchestrated that progress, Christy Holly, saying goodbye to club cornerstone Christie Pearce the same week.
Though Pearce was only placed on the season-ending disabled list (with the nebulous description of accumulated injuries), she had already indicated the 2017 season would be her last.