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.

Justin Morneau nixes Olympic baseball qualifying return

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Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP with the Minnesota Twins, was taken off Canada’s Olympic baseball qualifying roster before he would have played his first competitive game in more than two years.

Morneau, 38, experienced an unspecified setback in training and was replaced on Canada’s roster for next month’s Premier12. The global tournament marks the first opportunity for many world baseball powers to qualify for the sport’s return to the Olympics.

Morneau never played in the Olympics before baseball was cut from the Games after 2008; active MLB players have never competed in the Games. But he was on Canada’s roster at all four World Baseball Classics from 2006 through 2017.

At November’s Premier12, the top nation from North and South America will qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. Japan and Israel are already qualified. Those that do not qualify will get another chance next year.

Morneau could become the second Major League Baseball MVP to play Olympic baseball as a medal sport. The other was Jason Giambi, who made the U.S. team in 1992, the same summer he was drafted in the second round by the Oakland Athletics.

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MORE: Joe Girardi replaced as U.S. baseball manager by World Series champion

Kolohe Andino is first U.S. Olympic surfing qualifier; Kelly Slater faces last chance

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Kolohe Andino is the first American to qualify for surfing’s Olympic debut, which leaves one spot left for 47-year-old Kelly Slater to chase at the final contest of the season.

Andino, a 25-year-old Californian whose first name means “rascal” in Hawaiian, clinched his place in Tokyo on Friday at the penultimate stop on the World Surf League Championship Tour in Portugal. He is ranked fifth in the world, trailing a trio of Brazilians.

One more American man will join Andino on the Olympic team. It will be one of Slater, the 11-time world champion, John John Florence, the 2016 and 2017 World champion, and rising 22-year-old Hawaiian Seth Moniz.

Slater was handed a golden opportunity to qualify when Florence announced in early July that he tore an ACL for the second time in 13 months. Florence had won two of the first five events this season.

Slater has been chasing the sidelined Florence in the standings ever since. But it has not been easy.

Slater hasn’t made the quarterfinals in any of his last seven contests going into December’s finale — the prestigious Billabong Pipeline Masters on the North Shore of Oahu.

“Ninth place, to me, used to be a pretty awful result. I’m used to at least a quarterfinal on for most of my career,” he said in July, noting a back injury. “I’m not horrified by my results, but I’m also not surprised. Maybe other people are because everyone focuses on my age and that kind of thing. It’s not like I’m going to all of a sudden forget how to do this thing, you know?”

Slater, who won the Pipe Masters seven times between 1992 and 2013, must reach the quarterfinals at this year’s event to have any chance of passing Florence to qualify for the Olympics.

Complicating matters: Florence said in August it was his “goal to get better for Pipeline in case I have to come back and compete and gain points,” according to ESPN.com. If Florence does return for the December contest, and makes the quarterfinals, Slater could only pass him with a victory.

Moniz goes into the finale ranked one spot behind Slater, meaning he, too, can grab that second and final Olympic spot with a win or a runner-up.

Slater, who turns 48 on Feb. 11, would be the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing or shooting (or art competitions!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova, according to the OlyMADMen.

MORE: Top U.S. surfer has links to Egg McMuffin, Guinness World Record holder

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