Larry Brown Sports spoke with soccer commentator Brandi Chastain last week as she was getting prepared for the NCAA women’s soccer Final Four. Chastain was speaking on behalf of the Capital One Cup, for whom she is an advisory board member. North Carolina, which was the only non-No. 1 seeded team to reach the Final Four, won the national championship and is leading the women’s cup standings.
We spoke with Chastain about her dust-up with Hope Solo, her thoughts on the new women’s national team coach, the team’s former coach, and international stars Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan.
Friction with Hope Solo
This was our first conversation with Chastain since she was on the receiving end of a postgame Twitter assault from Solo during the Olympics. Solo confirmed in her book that a pre-Olympics interview Chastain did with Larry Brown Sports bothered her. In that interview, Chastain called Solo’s positive drug test a distraction the national team did not need.
“I had one job to do at the Olympics for NBC, and that was to be an objective commentator and to use my experience to share with the viewer what was happening,” Chastain told LBS. “That is what I did. The outcome is unfortunate, but you control what you can control. I was happy with the job I did.”
Chastain says her bosses at NBC supported her.
“They felt that my commentary was fair, objective, and honest. That’s what they wanted me to do.”
When asked if she was surprised that Solo lashed out at her over Twitter following the game, Chastain said yes.
“Yes, it was surprising. Mainly because it was nearly instantaneous from the game being finished. This is my opinion from having been in those situations — your focus should be on what you’re doing to prepare for the next game. So I was surprised she took so much attention away from that to spend time doing the other.”
Chastain says she and Solo have not talked since the incident.
I asked if the subject would come up if the two happened to be around each other. Chastain seemed open to hashing out the matter.
“Potentially it could. If it comes up, we will have an adult conversation.”
Supportive of Tom Sermanni
Tom Sermanni was hired in late October to replace Pia Sundhage, who stepped down as coach of the women’s national team. Chastain is expecting big things from the man who coached Australia the past eight years.
“I’m a friend of Tom Sermanni. I played for him in the WUSA. I feel like he’s got a lot to offer — a different type of coaching perspective than any other coach that’s been with the US team before. I think that’s healthy,” she said.
“I think change can be scary sometimes for some people, but I think change is exciting and I think it’s going to be very good. I’m really looking forward to seeing what he does with personnel and style.”
Mixed feelings about Pia Sundhage
Sundhage stepped down as coach of the national team to return to her native Sweden. The US went 91-6-10 during her tenure, which began in November 2007. Sundhage led the US to two Olympic gold medals, and a second-place finish at the Women’s World Cup. Despite the team’s success under Sundhage, Chastain felt like things could have been different stylistically.
“I think everything has a cycle. I think there are some coaches that can be around for decades, and then I think there are some coaches that are only in it for the short-term. I don’t think anybody felt that Pia was going to be there for the long-term, and that’s fine.
“She came to a team that was needing a little bit of a different perspective, and I think she gave it,” said Chastain.
“Even though they won an Olympic gold medal, I’m not so sure she influenced the game as much as fans had hoped. But still, I think it was positive.”
What was it that Chastain felt Sundhage could have done differently?
“I think she initially came here with the pretense that they’re going to play more soccer — value the ball more, keep the ball more, be more like Japan — confident on the ball. At the end of the day, I’m not so sure that that was really the focus.
“It was more so ‘can we get the ball forward as fast as we can to Abby (Wambach) and Alex (Morgan) to score more goals than the other team?’ Some people can say it’s very exciting and others can say it’s kind of disappointing.”
Abby Wambach for World Player of the Year
The US’ Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan are finalists for FIFA’s Women’s World Player of the Year award, along with Marta of Brazil. Chastain’s vote would go to Wambach, though she thinks Morgan has a strong case for winning the award.
“That’s hard,” Chastain said when asked for whom she would vote. “I think that goes to a player like Abby Wambach. I think Alex Morgan has been a phenomenon. I said from the beginning of the Women’s World Cup when she was on the bench that Alex Morgan needs to play more, but I don’t think she’s World Player of the Year yet. She’s scored a lot of goals, but I think the little things that Abby does puts her a little bit ahead of Alex in that race.”
Chastain said she would vote for Japan’s coach, Norio Sasaki, for World Coach of the Year for Women’s Soccer. She was impressed that he led Japan to a World Cup win over the US despite the tsunami, and that his team came so close to repeating the World Cup success at the Olympics. Sundhage and France’s Bruno Bini are the other finalists.
Chastain was also complimentary of Wambach when asked about the forward’s pursuit of the US women’s career goal record. Wambach has scored 148 career international goals, 10 shy of Mia Hamm’s record of 158.
“I think it’s exciting. I’ve played with Abby, I’ve played against her, I’ve watched her, and my husband’s coached her at the U-20 level. I love having seen Abby evolve into the player that she’s become and take more on responsibility team-wise.
“I think Abby still has a lot to do even though some people are asking her if she’s still going to play. I like that she has become such a force in a way that is different from Mia in scoring goals. She’s reminiscent to me of Michelle Akers — a powerful yet finesse player at times.
“It’s been really great and fun to watch — I love it.”
Chastain wanted us to remind you to check out the Capital One Cup because it helps bring attention to some of the collegiate sports that typically are overlooked.