It’s a blast from the United States soccer past.
The USWNT team will square off against its former coach, Pia Sundhage, in Friday’s World Cup matchup against Sweden in the tournament’s opening round of pool play. Sundhage coached the United States squad for four years from 2008 to 2012.
Sundhage was named FIFA World Coach of the Year in 2013 before accepting a head coaching position with the Sweden women’s national football team, the same team she had previously played for herself.
Friday’s matchup might not be a happy reunion between Sundhage and the USWNT however after the long-time coach made some disparaging comments about her former players ahead of the game.
Here’s what you need to know about Sundhage:
1. Sundhage Coached the United States Women’s National Team From 2008-2012
Sundhage was announced as the USWNT head coach on November 13, 2007, becoming the seventh head coach in the team’s history and the third women. She was also the first foreign-born coach to ever lead the squad.
The Sweden-born Sundhage was almost immediately successful with the American squad, leading the group to a 2008 Algarve Cup victory and a pair of Gold medals in both the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics.
However, Sundhage and the USWNT stumbled a bit in the 2011 Women’s World Cup. The team advanced to the championship game for the first time since 1999 but fell to Japan 3-1 in the championship match. Sundhage announced her resignation as coach of the team in 2012 after posting a 96-10 record.
2. She Became Head Coach of the Sweden Women’s Team on December 1, 2012
Sundhage announced her resignation as the USWNT head coach in 2012 and signed a four-year contract with the Swedish soccer association not long after.
She told ESPN:
I have long dreamed of becoming Sweden coach and now I am so happy. English is not my mother tongue, and I have a hard time to express how grateful I am and how lucky. I’m the lucky one. I wanted to tell the fans, youth soccer, the coaches I’ve been working with, staff and the players, if not for you, you know. If not for you, I wouldn’t find the door. I wouldn’t be where I am.
Sundhage replaced Thomas Dennerby who resigned after Sweden stumbled in the 2012 Olympic tournament and, just as she did with the U.S., the long-time coach quickly affected change.
She led Sweden throughout the 2013 European championship, which the team also hosted, falling to eventual champion Germany 1-0 in the semifinal. The team got off to an unexpected start in this summer’s Women’s World Cup, surrendering a two-goal halftime lead, in a 3-3 draw with Nigeria.
3. Sundhage Made Some Biting Comments About the USWNT in the New York Times
Sundhage didn’t shy away from creating a little bit of controversy ahead of Sweden’s match against the United States in a story published by the New York Times. Sundhage commented on everyone from Carli Lloyd – who scored both of the USWNT team goals in the 2012 gold medal game – to Abby Wambach and added that Hope Solo was a challenge to coach “especially when it comes to trouble”
When questioned about the interview, and her description of her former players, Sundhage said the quotes were given in April and had nothing to do with the World Cup game or any potential games between the two teams.
4. Sundhage Played Professionally for Almost 20 Years
Long before she was an international coaching sensation, Sundhage was also a dominant player in her own right. She began her professional career in 1978 and played for a handful of Swedish clubs until she retired in 1996.
Sundhage also played on the international circuit, making her first appearance for the Swedish National Team in 1975 when she was 15-years-old. Her 71 career goals are tied for the most in team history and her success on the field even led to her image on a postage stamp in 1988.
5. She Came Out as a Lesbian on Swedeish TV in 2010
Sundhage quietly announced her sexual orientation during a 2010 interview on Swedish television with national TV personality Lasse Bengtsson. She also referred to her girlfriend, at the time, Marie and discussed how she had never felt homophobia while working on the team.
Sundhage was quoted as saying, “There has been no problem for me to be openly gay as head coach in the U.S.”