The U.S. women's soccer team is closer to finding a permanent replacement for departed head coach Pia Sundhage and might be making progress on the establishment of a new professional league for its players to join, U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said Friday.
Sundhage resigned in September after nearly five years with the U.S. national team, during which she won two Olympic gold medals and finished second in her only World Cup. Gulati said "about 25 to 30" candidates to replace her have already been identified, and he's hoping to have the interview process completed by the end of the month.
"That process is ongoing," he said. "We don't have a shortlist per se, but we're still talking to people. We don't have a critical cutoff date of any sort with competition around the corner."
In the meantime, Jill Ellis, a former Sundhage assistant and longtime coach at UCLA, will run the team on an interim basis. Ellis, development director for the U.S. program, is not a candidate to replace Sundhage permanently, Gulati said.
The U.S. women have two friendlies upcoming on their post-Olympic tour, meeting Germany on Oct. 20 in Bridgeview, Ill., and three days later in East Hartford, Conn.
The next major international competition is the 2015 World Cup in Canada, a lull that has made the formation of a domestic women's league important if the U.S. hopes to keep its top players from going overseas to play. Gulati said one possibility that is on the table would have U.S. soccer pay the salaries of players who decide to stay home and play in a fledgling domestic league.
In the last nine years, two women's professional leagues have folded in the U.S., mainly due to poor management and underfunded ownership groups. Gulati said the latest effort could involve as many as 11 teams playing in 10 cities with the first season kicking off next spring.
"What we're looking at is a different sort of participation than we've had in the past," said Gulati, an economics instructor at Columbia University. "There is every possibility that we would have a more active role in the management and funding of this league. What form that takes is still being discussed.
"But a big part of our participation would be that the national team players would play in this league and perhaps be funded directly by U.S. soccer."
Gulati declined to identify potential ownership groups or which cities were being considered for the new league but he did say "they're spread across the country, and there are some former professional teams that are obviously part of that group."
Gulati also said some current Major League Soccer teams are among the potential investors in the new league.
Gulati said he expects to have the vetting process on the league's prospective ownership groups completed by the end of October and that U.S. soccer plans to talk to national team players to seek their input on the new league and their interest in participating.