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Flash’s Lines eyes US women’s soccer head coaching vacancy—INTERVIEW

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

After leading the U.S. women’s national soccer team to two gold medals and a World Cup Final, head coach Pia Sundhage surprisingly vacated her position after the first match of the Fan Celebration Tour in Rochester.

With Sundhage eying professional opportunities in her native Sweden, there’s no clear successor, no single person who’s been groomed to fill her shoes. Filling the role with a capable coach is crucially important even though the next major tournament isn’t until World Cup 2015. It’s the premier coaching job in the land, and with many U.S. stars entering their early-to-mid 30s, a new crop of young players must join starlets Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux moving forward. There’s weight on the new coach’s shoulders, but a glorious opportunity as well.

Although myriad names have been suggested for the job, the Western New York Flash’s own head coach Aaran Lines has seen his name circulating over the past few weeks as a likely candidate.

Twitter rumors spread yesterday that New York Fury and former Philadelphia Independence head coach Paul Riley was in discussion with the US Soccer Federation about the job, but as Jeff Kassouf from Equalizer Soccer says, it’s not necessarily the contact that’s crucial, it’s whether or not the federation will pursue further steps with Riley.

To learn Lines’ impressions of the job opening, his level of interest and why he thinks he deserves the role, we contacted him late last week:

Buffalo.com: Were you as shocked as everyone else at Pia [Sundhage]‘s announcement?

Aaran Lines: “I’d heard that she might be looking elsewhere. Obviously I hadn’t heard it from any credible source, but it wasn’t too much of a surprise. I thought she did a fantastic job with the team since she’s taken over, and those will be pretty big shoes to fill.”

Buffalo.com: Before Pia’s decision to step down, was the U.S. job at all in your sights?

Lines: “No, the focus was absolutely on what we were trying to do here with the Western New York Flash. That was the focus—I was like anyone else, just hoping that [the U.S.] did what they ended up doing [in the Olympics.] Individually, I’m very motivated, and you always want to aspire to be the best that you can be, and just to hear my name thrown around for that job is an honor and a testament to the success that we’ve had here at the club level the last three years.”

Buffalo.com: If you were to be presented with the job, what’s your level of interest in taking it?

Lines: “I’ve said in a roundabout way that I’d want to take that role. Wouldn’t you? You get to manage the creme-de-la-creme of U.S. Soccer—some really talented players. Anyone who aspires to go on and grow would be interested in taking that job.”

Buffalo.com: The future U.S. women’s coach steps into an interesting role. Pia won two Olympics and came within an inch of a World Cup, but it still feels like there’s unfinished business in light of the most recent World Cup. Would you agree with that?

Lines: “In terms of the World Cup, you might look at it like that, but if you look at her tenure over five years—to get a couple gold medals and a World Cup Final, that speaks for itself. There’s a World Cup in two years in North America, and you’ve got a great, talented roster, and the goal for the U.S. National Team should be able to go to that tournament and win it in North America.”

Buffalo.com: Do you foresee that, given that a large crop of the U.S. starters are into their early 30s, U.S. Soccer will be looking for the next coach as someone who can orchestrate that changing of the guard, the one who can identify good young players and bring them into the fold?

Lines: “Absolutely. There are some players who are ending wonderful careers, and there’s going to be a next generation. Pia has integrated some creative pieces over the last year or so, but definitely the next test is going to be managing a transition to a new generation of players.”

Buffalo.com: Given that your Flash team last year was one of the youngest that you’ve coached, and that team had so much success, do you think that’s one of your main selling points for becoming U.S. coach?

Lines: “I think so. Obviously winning three championships in three different leagues I’ve had 3 completely different rosters; 3 different stories. Last years 2011 WPS Championship was a great accomplishment melding some world class players into a team. This season was very different—I had a lot of young players as well as some players that went through a tough year last year in WPS, so it was about getting them in the right state of mind, a winning mentality, fighting for one another first and foremost. Then came the technical and tactical improvement day in, day out. I can’t express to you how rewarding that was, and that’s also a testament to the players and their character coming in here, believing and putting in the work rate.

If you look at the amount of experience the NY Fury had in the semifinal against us — we shouldn’t even have had a chance on paper. Their starting lineup had over 350 games experience in the WPS — we had less than 150. Even the Chicago team we played in the final had over 200 games experience in WPS.  In 2011, we were the youngest team in WPS, and winning championships speaks for itself. If you look at both of those rosters (2011 and 2012) there were a lot of young players who could very well be in that next generation of [U.S. National Team players.] In saying that, this [current] U.S. team is just coming off an Olympic gold—this team is at its peak. They’re the best in the world right now, and that’s where they should be, but obviously you have to continue to develop the youth to keep the U.S. at the top.”

Buffalo.com: If the next coach the U.S. chooses comes from the club ranks, do you think that’ll show or encourage some type of cooperation between U.S. Soccer and a new pro league? Does that factor into the decision?

Lines: “I’m not sure about that one. I think honestly they’ll just be looking for the person who’s the right fit for the job. They’ll want to build off the success that Pia has had, and it sounds like they may want that position to be filled with someone who’s comfortable with the age-group teams as well.”

Buffalo.com: Do you know what the process is for U.S. Soccer to fill the coaching position?

Lines: “No I don’t. It’s all rumors and speculation right now.”

Follow Kassouf (@JeffKassouf), U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer_wnt) and Buffalo.com (@Buffalodotcom) for updates as the head coaching search continues.

TAGGED: aaran lines, jeff kassouf, pia sundhage, us soccer, western new york flash, wny flash, wny soccer

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