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US women's coach Sundhage to return to Sweden

By John Wawrow

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Sept. 1 2012 11:32 a.m. MDT

FILE - This Aug. 2, 2012 file photo shows U.S. women's soccer head coach Pia Sundhage arriving at a soccer practice for the 2012 London Summer Olympics at Cochrane Park in Newcastle, England. After leading the team to two Olympic gold medals and its first spot in a World Cup final in more than a decade, Sundhage is stepping down. Saturday's announcement of Sundhage's departure came just a few hours before the Americans kicked off their "victory tour" to celebrate their gold medal at the London Olympics, where the Americans beat Japan 2-1 in a rematch of last year's World Cup final. The search for a new coach will begin immediately.

Scott Heppell, File, Associated Press

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The U.S. women's soccer team's post-Olympic victory tour also will be a goodbye tour.

Coach Pia Sundhage is stepping down, returning to her native Sweden after leading the Americans to back-to-back gold medals and their first World Cup final in 12 years. The announcement of her departure Saturday came just a few hours before the U.S. women began their "victory tour" against Costa Rica.

"I want to thank all the players and all of my assistant coaches for making me better," Sundhage said in a statement. "Before I took this job, I always admired the spirit and character of the U.S. team, but to experience that first-hand on the training field and from the bench as their coach was truly special and something I will treasure for the rest of my life."

The Americans are 88-6-10 since Sundhage took over in 2007, and made the final of all three major tournaments during her tenure. Their 2-1 victory over Japan in last month's Olympic final was a rematch of the 2011 World Cup final and avenged the most painful loss in team history.

U.S. Soccer said it will begin searching for a new coach immediately, but has no timetable for naming a successor. There is no major tournament until the next World Cup in 2015.

Sundhage is expected to stay with the Americans for at least the next two games of their victory tour, a pair of exhibitions against Australia on Sept. 16 in Carson, Calif., and Sept. 19 in Commerce City, Colo. The U.S. then plays two-time World Cup champion Germany on Oct. 20 in Bridgeview, Ill., and Oct. 23 in East Hartford, Conn.

Sundhage's departure is not exactly a surprise. She has long expressed an interest in returning home, and is sure to be a top candidate to replace Thomas Dennerby, who resigned last month after eight years as coach of the Swedish women's team. Sundhage is still the face of women's soccer in Sweden, which she led to the title at the first European Women's Championship in 1984 and the bronze medal at the inaugural Women's World Cup in 1991.

She finished her 22-year international career with 71 goals.

"I have to admit, I've been away from my home for five years," Sundhage said Friday after practice. "The fact that Sweden is hosting the European championship (in 2013), that's a big thing of course. ... I want to do the right thing with U.S. Soccer and start with talking with them and see if I can give another four years. And that's a key, because this team, they deserve somebody that's committed 110 percent."

Sundhage had little head coaching experience when she took over in November 2007. But her calm demeanor and relentlessly positive attitude were exactly what was needed for a U.S. team still wounded and raw from the debacle of the 2007 World Cup in China.

The Americans went to China favored to win their third title, and carried a 51-game unbeaten streak into the semifinals against Brazil. But then-coach Greg Ryan made the surprise decision to start Briana Scurry against Brazil 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 move was a disaster; a 4-0 loss that was the worst defeat in U.S. history.

Afterward, Solo ripped Ryan's move, saying, "It was the wrong decision, and I think anybody that knows anything about the game knows that."

Ryan dismissed Solo from the team, not allowing her on the bench for the third-place game. She even had to fly home from China on her own. The Americans managed to win the bronze medal, but the damage was done. A month later, Ryan was essentially fired when he was told his contract would not be renewed when it expired in December.

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