US women's coach Sundhage to return to Sweden

By John Wawrow

Associated Press

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

Sundhage did not force her players to be nice to each other — that's not her way. But she asked questions and listened to the answers, not judging one way or the other. That air of civility extended to practices and team meetings, where Sundhage refused to be negative or harsh, choosing instead to focus on what her team was doing well.

"I don't expect them to forget what happened — and I got different kinds of stories of what happened — but I expect them to forgive," Sundhage said last year.

She set the tone from her very first team meeting, when she pulled out her guitar and began playing Bob Dylan's classic, "The Times They Are A-Changin."

"When I came, I said, 'We need goalkeepers.' So we had three goalkeepers," Sundhage said. "Then we said, 'I want to win, do you want to win? Yes. Then you have to do this together. It will be impossible if you have something in the group that's not 100 percent. You have to do it together and be respectful.' We moved on."

Just eight months after Sundhage took over, the Americans beat Brazil for the Olympic title — with Solo coming up with one big save after another.

"I don't know if I could have made it back in '08 without her," Solo said last year. "Every day after training, Pia would walk up to me and she'd be like, 'Hope, how you doing today?' I faked it. I was like, 'I'm fine.' Next day, same thing, 'I'm fine.' I remember one breakthrough day, I was like, 'I'm OK Pia.' She was like, 'It's kind of tough, huh? Hang in there.'"

"I knew she asked me every day because she saw I was struggling," Solo said. "She wasn't pushing me to talk. But she put her hand out and was ready to help me through it when I was ready. It was nice. I needed somebody with that patience."

Following their Beijing victory, Sundhage began remaking the U.S. team.

For years, the Americans had relied on a physical, forward-based attack that took advantage of their size, speed and depth. But with teams around the world improving, Sundhage felt they needed to adopt a more European, possession-oriented game where plays are created through the midfield to stay ahead. She brought in young players like Alex Morgan, Kelley O'Hara and Sydney Leroux, who will be mainstays of the U.S. team for years to come.

The transition has not always been easy. After going more than two years without a loss, the Americans dropped three games in a five-month span, beginning with a shocking loss to Mexico in November 2010 in World Cup qualifying.

Even in London, Sundhage occasionally fretted about the way the Americans played.

"It doesn't matter if it's 2-0, 3-0 or whatever, because I know how we can play," she said.

But now that will be someone else's concern.

"Joy," Sundhage said Friday when she asked what she wanted to see during the tour. "I would think that is the most important thing."

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