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.

Decker scores twice, U.S. women’s hockey team beats Canada 5-2

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QUEBEC CITY (AP) — Brianna Decker scored twice to help the U.S. women’s hockey team open its pre-Olympic exhibition schedule with a 5-2 victory over Canada on Sunday.

Hilary Knight, Annie Pankowski and Alex Carpenter also scored for the Americans.

Meghan Agosta and Jillian Saulnier scored for Canada.

The teams will meet again Wednesday night in Boston. Canada has won four straight Olympic titles, and the U.S. has claimed seven of the last eight world championships.

World downhill champion Ilka Stuhec tears ACL

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Lindsey Vonn’s top rival for downhill gold is in danger of missing the upcoming Olympics.

Ilka Stuhec, a world champion Alpine skier from Slovenia, suffered a torn ACL after a practice crash in Austria this weekend.

Stuhec had become a strong medal favorite for PyeongChang after winning FIS World Cup titles in downhill and Alpine combined last season. She also won a gold medal in downhill at the 2017 World Championships, where Vonn placed third.

According to a post on the FIS website, surgery is set for this Wednesday, with more information to come after that. But preliminary reports suggest that she is likely to miss the Olympics.

“For now it looks like Ilka Stuhec will have to miss a large part or maybe the whole World Cup season, including the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea,” a spokesperson for Struhec told Reuters.

In a tweet, Struhec acknowledged that she would be sidelined “for a few months.”

The Olympics start in less than four months.