Sermanni steps in: how will the USWNT change?

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Pia Sundhage’s Sept. 1 announcement that she was stepping down from her post as the U.S. women’s soccer head coach to take over in Sweden was a blow to the world’s No. 1 team.

Sundhage had just led the U.S. to its third-straight Olympic gold in London (second under her guidance) and the team’s chemistry was peaking. How could the most endeared women’s soccer coach in all the land be replaced? Enter the ‘stache.

U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday that Tom Sermanni will replace Sundhage effective Jan. 1, 2013. Sermanni previously coached Australia to the last two World Cups and the jovial Scotsman is about as close as you’ll get to matching Sundhage’s chipper personality – he just doesn’t play the guitar.

But seriously, Sermanni’s management plan, in a word, is about balance. U.S. women’s soccer fans have largely campaigned for a mass overhaul of the current team in favor of younger players, a sentiment that falls somewhere between never satisfied and just plain foolish.

Don’t worry, Sermanni won’t be handing out pink slips to the older veteran players any time soon. He realizes how young players deserve opportunities (he regularly developed teenage players with Australia), but also knows he has walked into an already winning formula.

“I think there’s misconception about the [U.S.] team,” Sermanni said Wednesday in some of his first words as U.S. coach. “Teams get pigeonholed often and it’s a false perception of what they’re about. The U.S. team gets pigeonholed as a strong, physical team. This U.S. team is actually a good footballing team and they’ve got some very talented and gifted players in there.”

So players like 37-year-old captain Christie Rampone and 35-year-old midfielder Shannon Boxx can breathe a little easier (Sermanni specifically praised those two players) knowing that they are part of Sermanni’s plans.

So U.S. women’s soccer fans will just have to keep freaking out about there not being enough ‘change’ for their liking. The rest of us are looking forward to what’s next. Fear the ‘stache.

Jeff Kassouf covered women’s soccer during the Olympics and is an online producer for NBCSports.com. He’s also devilishly handsome. Follow him on Twitter here.

Canada names Olympic Opening Ceremony flag bearers

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Figure skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are Canada’s flag bearers for the PyeongChang Olympic Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9.

It’s the first time Canada will have multiple flag bearers at an Opening Ceremony.

Virtue and Moir won ice dance gold at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games and silver in Sochi in 2014.

After a two-year break, they went undefeated last season and won their third world championship.

They lost for the first time in their comeback at last month’s Grand Prix Final to French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.

Canada finished in the top three in the total medal standings at the last three Winter Olympics, including topping the gold-medal standings at the 2010 Vancouver Games with a record 14.

Recent Canadian Winter Olympic flag bearers
2014 Opening: Hayley Wickenheiser, Hockey
2014 Closing: Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse, Bobsled
2010 Opening: Clara Hughes, Speed Skating
2010 Closing: Joannie Rochette, Figure Skating
2006 Opening: Danielle Goyette, Hockey
2006 Closing: Cindy Klassen, Speed Skating
2002 Opening: Catriona Le May Doan, Speed Skating
2002 Closing: Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, Figure Skating

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MORE: Canada’s Olympic figure skating team roster

Dale Earnhardt Jr. to cover Super Bowl LII, Olympics for NBC

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will cover Super Bowl LII and the PyeongChang Olympics as a contributor for NBC.

Earnhardt will spend the first weekend in February covering the outdoor activities in Minneapolis for the Super Bowl Pre-Game Show (NBC, Feb. 4).

Then he will travel to South Korea for the Winter Games.

From NBC Sports PR:

“Earnhardt will travel to PyeongChang, where he will explore the culture, people, and traditions in South Korea, and experience Olympic competitions first hand. Earnhardt will visit the speed skating venue at Gangneung Ice Arena, and through the lens of a racer will view the speed, close contact, and tight turns on the short track speed skating oval, which so closely mirror Earnhardt’s racing days and nights at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Following a recent invite on social media from his new friends on the U.S. bobsled team, including U.S. bobsled team pilot Nick Cunningham, Earnhardt will also travel to Alpensia Sliding Center, where he will test the true speed of the bobsled track and live out his post-retirement dream of riding in an Olympic bobsled.”

Earnhardt, 43, retired last year after 19 NASCAR seasons, which included Daytona 500 wins in 2004 and 2014.

He is now a NASCAR on NBC analyst.

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MORE: Breakdown of NBC Olympics record 2,400 hours of programming