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Paul Riley for USA

Photo: Michael Long

US Women’s National Team head coach Pia Sundhage announced she is stepping down last weekend to return to her native Sweden and coach the Swedish women as they host the European Championships 2013.

Some have speculated who might be in line to take over for the successful Sundhage. I’d recommend this one from Jeff Kassouf for a basic overview. If you are looking for that from PSP, this is not your post.

This post calls for one thing: Giving Paul Riley the job of head coach of the USWNT.

Outspoken and honest

I spent last year covering the Philadelphia Independence and getting to know Paul Riley. I can safely say the outspoken man from Liverpool is unlike any other coach I have talked to in my brief journalism career. In the best way. Riley is upfront, honest, and sincere. He’s like that with his players. His opponents. With the press. It would not be far off to call him the anti-Nowak.

Riley was two-time WPS Coach of the Year, a title I would have bet on him to defend if WPS existed into 2012. The Independence were unlucky to lose the WPS Championship in a shootout to the Western New York Flash last season, and the loss had nothing to do with Riley, whose game plan to mitigate the stars of WNY (Marta, Christine Sinclair, Alex Morgan, Caroline Seger) worked perfectly. An Amy Rodriguez shot a few feet to the right was all that was missing to give Riley and the Independence a much deserved championship. Whether the miss came because, as Riley had famously said earlier, Sundhage had destroyed Rodriguez’s confidence at the World Cup can’t be said.

Developer, motivator

Looking at the rosters of other WPS playoff teams last year compared to Philadelphia’s, it was impressive that the Independence were even in the final. A semifinal match-up against the hilariously named magicJack team saw Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe, Christie Rampone, and Shannon Boxx roll into PPL Park only to be turned away by Tasha Kai, Sinead Farrelly, Jen Buczkowski and Kia McNeill.

But that is exactly what Paul Riley is all about: getting the most out of the players he has. Whether it is through developing young talent or inspiring veterans to refound form, I watched it happen all last season. Rookie Sinead Farrelly came to the Independence as a young, talented, offensive midfielder. She spent the early part of the year struggling with the physical nature and pace of the professional game. But you would have never known it if you watched the WPS Playoffs. In the WPS Final, one of the most talented midfielders in the world, Caroline Seger, was almost invisible, with Farrelly her shadow for 120 minutes.

Tasha Kai came to Philadelphia a castoff from the USWNT and Sky Blue FC. But the temperamental striker flourished under Riley, scoring nine goals and just missing out on the WPS Golden Boot. The no-name defense of Kia McNeill, Nikki Krzysik, Leigh Ann Robinson, and Estelle Johnson was one of the best in WPS last year.

Given the chance to coach, motivate, and develop the tactical prowess of Sidney Leroux, Carli Lloyd, Lauren Cheney, Tobin Heath, etc., the sky could be the limit for the US women under Paul Riley. Equally important, Riley’s skill at spotting under-appreciated talent could prove critical in rebuilding an aging national team squad ahead of the 2015 World Cup. If there is a coach that is going to give players who might not otherwise have a chance the opportunity to prove their worth, it is Riley.

Not that I expect he’ll get the job. But it sure would be a lot of fun.

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