Tom Sermanni is embarking on a new adventure after being named coach of the National Women’s Soccer League’s latest expansion team.
The Orlando Pride will mark their NWSL debut in 2016 and with Sermanni at the helm they’ll have an experienced bench boss who has worked with talented players from across the globe.
The 61-year-old has an impressive resume—he coached both the U.S. and Australian national women’s teams—and he most recently spent eight months with the Canadian program, working alongside coach John Herdman during the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Sportsnet had the chance to chat one-on-one with the Glasgow native about the NWSL and what he thought of his time in Canada.
What attracted you to coaching in the NWSL after so many years running national teams?
It’s interesting, because I think if you look at my career, I’ve had a mix of being with national teams and with club teams. I think when the opportunity came along with Orlando, particularly you look at how good the organization is, and it was really a no-brainer to come back into club football. I don’t really have one preference for one or the other.
Do you think that a connection with the men’s MLS team is going to make a difference on the women’s side of things?
I’m always a great believer in having a men’s team and a women’s team, if that’s possible. I think it helps build a complete club. If I go back just a few years when we started the women’s W-League in Australia, one of the key priorities for us at that time was to link the teams in with the men’s teams. The other thing it does is it gives you extra resources and an already established fan base. It gives you an organization that’s already up and running, so you’re not trying to start something from scratch. It gives you expertise behind the scenes. There are so many advantages for a women’s team to be linked up with an MLS club.
What kind of challenges will you face as an expansion team?
Oh, lots of challenges! [laughs] The first and the biggest challenge is getting a squad of 20 players together and a squad that can be balanced, simply because of the rules that you have in the U.S., which are different from anywhere else in the world where there’s a free market. If there’s a free market, you can go out and you can target players, speak to them, basically bring them in on a contract.
In the U.S., there’s certain stipulations as to what you can do and what you can’t do—like teams are allowed to protect players, so you’re not able to go out there and target the best players from teams. It’s a little bit challenging. The other thing that makes it a challenge is that there are really good leagues in the UK, Germany and France. You’re now competing for players not just within the U.S. structure.
Your roster is already starting to take shape with Canadian Kaylyn Kyle in the fold. What do you see her bringing to the team?
Oh yes, we always need some Canadians! [laughs] Firstly, Kaylyn is a very experienced player. She’s had an outstanding career at an international level and she’s used to playing at the highest level for many years. As well as her soccer ability, she also brings a real winning attitude. The great thing about Kaylyn is that she’s got this blend of the experience, being successful, being a very good player, but really is someone that wants to be a winner. We want to build a team around players like that.
Staying with Canadian talk, you recently spent time with the national team. What can you tell us about working with John Herdman?
I had to keep him in line! That was my job. [laughs] It was a great time. Obviously, I have known John for some years through our New Zealand-Australian connection and a few of John’s staff as well that he took with him to Canada. I had a fantastic, fantastic time. I really did. Apart from being an exceptional coach on the field, John is fantastically organized, a great motivator and has the ability to lead a staff and a team very dynamically. At the same time, it’s an environment that you love to be in. It’s enjoyable and relaxed, as well as being very, very professional. For me, it was a great time. It was also, well, when you’re not the head coach, it’s much easier to sleep at night. I really enjoyed my time and my role there.
The other thing that I found was fantastic is that John delegates responsibility to those around him. He trusts them. That really helps build up that team spirit and as a coach in there, it really helps because it feels like you’re contributing and that your opinion is taken into account. In every facet of those eight months, I had a great time. I loved the job.
What was your specific role with the Canadian team?
I actually don’t know if I had a title. I mean, I just think I was an assistant coach to be honest. As I said, that was my title, but I don’t know if it was my formal title or not, but my role was very much a team effort with John. I would be at times responsible for the attacking part of the team during games, during the World Cup, or in charge of the defending part, so I would have more input in that regard. I would be part of the individual meetings we would have with the players. I would help put some video stuff together to present during some of the meetings.
It was a good role, an enjoyable role and I felt it was a really meaningful role. I wasn’t there just as an add-on kind of thing. John’s got a great ability to give responsibility to the people around him, but at the same time, manage it all in the way he does to get the impact and the effect he wants it to get.
Many in Canada see the women’s national team at a bit of a crossroads, where there are some players who are getting into the twilight years of their careers, perhaps thinking about retirement and then there’s a younger selection of players champing at the bit. From your time with the program, how does the future look?
I think there’s an optimistic future and I think you’re right. There’s a little bit of that crossroads and that happens to every team. I think that the good thing that John has done is that he’s taken control of the whole system. He has his people in charge of the system all the way down. You’ve got eyes on players that have potential to be the next internationals. He’s also got a system in place and people in place he can trust to produce players for him and to scout players for him. All of that stuff is in place and that helps when there’s that transition when you’re losing maybe five, six or seven players and there’s the next ones who are coming through.
Now, sometimes you do need a little bit of time, but I think from what I’ve seen is that there’s already been a process in place that’s starting in the next generation of players. I think there’s enough good, experienced players who are not retiring and enough young talented players coming through into the team. I think that transition will be quite seamless.