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Pia Sundhage steps down as U.S. women’s soccer coach

Three weeks after guiding the U.S. women’s soccer team to an Olympic title, Pia Sundhage is stepping down as coach to return to her native Sweden.

“It was an honor to be able to coach these players for five years and I learned a tremendous amount from all of them,” Sundhage said in a statement released by U.S. Soccer on Saturday.

“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.”

Sundhage, 52, who played in two World Cups and the 1996 Olympic Games for Sweden, was put in charge of the U.S. women’s program shortly after the team finished third in the 2007 World Cup.

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In nearly five years she won two Olympic gold medals and made the final of last summer’s World Cup, where the U.S. lost to Japan on penalty kicks.

The U.S. won 11 tournaments under Sundhage, including three Algarve Cups. She leaves with a record of 88-6-10.

“After the Olympics we had discussions and early in the process it became clear that Pia was very interested in returning home,” U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said Saturday. “It certainly wasn’t an easy decision for U.S. Soccer or Pia.”

Gulati and U.S. Soccer Chief Executive Dan Flynn said the search for a new coach would begin immediately, though there is no timetable for naming a replacement.

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Hours after the announcement the U.S. women were scheduled to begin their post-Games “Victory Tour” in Rochester, N.Y. The team’s second stop on the tour will be at Los Angeles’ Home Depot Center, where it will meet Australia on Sept. 16.

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