SI.com: How much does Wambach's injury influence your decision on coach Pia Sundhage after this tournament since she's on a one-year contract?
Gulati: Look, we'll assess the whole thing. We don't make decisions only based on results at a particular tournament. Does it count a lot? Of course. But even last year's decision regarding the women's program wasn't based strictly on one loss against Brazil or even on one decision.
I think Pia's done a great job from everything we've seen. So we are very pleased with the way things have gone to this point, including how the team has played, including the feedback we've had from the team. So all of that's a big plus. So if we end up not achieving the goal that everyone wants, does that mean we make a certain decision and not continue [with Sundhage]? No. Does it mean if we lose a close game in the final game and say O.K., but if Abby had been there we would have won, so therefore ... ? It's not the way life works. So I think it's safe to say that Dan [Flynn, the USSF general secretary] and I understand how important Abby is and was to this team.
I often say this about coaches. If the ball from Charlie Davies goes in, we advance. I guess Peter should have said to Charlie, "If you get a chance in the 90th minute on a header, try to get it just below the bar..." My point: All of those things matter.
Now the game last here here [against Brazil] was 4-0. So it wasn't much of a game. We understand Abby's importance to this team. And an evaluation of this team and the performance of this team wouldn't neglect that. That's the easiest way to say it. The men's [senior] team is different when Landon's on the field and not on the field, and Landon's scoring rate is nothing like Abby's. There aren't many players in the world, men or women, that have the scoring rate she does in international soccer. So to think that doesn't impact the performance of the team, and therefore the evaluation, would be silly.
SI.com: I had a question about women's player development in this country. Correct me if I'm wrong: There's a new program on the men's side for development that you and U.S. Soccer have put a lot into. And at this point there is not an equivalent for the women.
Gulati: Sure. O.K. All of that is right. What we had was, we had established it prior to the World Cup [in '06] that we were going to have a complete review of our technical programs on the men's side. I wanted to do that because I didn't want anybody to think we were reacting only to what happened at the World Cup. Which it turned out was a good thing.
So that process started earlier. Kevin Payne chairs that process. They're looking at everything we do, how we can do it better, where we should completely revamp and so on. Because the timing of that World Cup was a year earlier than the women's. That process started first. One of the things that came out of that was the development academy, along with a number of other things.
On the women's side, we started that process essentially at the beginning of this year with three former national-team coaches and Carin Gabarra-Jennings. And started with the premise of, look, you've got a clean piece of paper. So what we decided to do on the women's team -- and I had this conversation with Tony DiCicco and April Heinrichs -- may be very different from what we do on the men's side.
An obvious example: It's pretty clear that on the men's side, players of college age are doing something different in other countries, and doing something that's more developmentally beneficial. So on the men's side that was critical for us to have something that was better as an alternative.
On the women's, we have a lot of top college teams who could do just fine playing internationally. And the economic incentives for women's players are very different than for men's players. So we may not ever have a Project-40 or a Bradenton for women, or a development academy. So I think you will see some things on the women's side that'll come out of the group. It was a year on the men's side looking at stuff before we did anything.
But there will be some concerted efforts regardless of what happens here on what we do. It may be that we hire someone to focus on those efforts. But that's a process that's ongoing. So the timing is just slightly different, because in women's competition you have two major competitions every four years. Changing coaches is a timely place to review things. That happened earlier with the men, obviously.
On the women's side Pia hasn't been involved in the process of looking at it for the last year. Not because of the short-term nature of our first agreement with her, but because she's completely tied up with this team.
SI.com: Obviously Abby Wambach is the most accomplished player on this team. But is there a concern that losing one player can change things so much?
Gulati: No. I think that's a great thing. And by that I mean: We didn't lose three games in the first round. We're still a favorite for a medal here without that player. So I view it as just the opposite. What's the question that everyone asks on the men's side? When are we going to produce a player like fill in the blank: Wayne Rooney, Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi. Well, when you have a player that's at that level, clearly you're affected when the player's not there.
So that would be the equivalent of saying: Is it a concern that the Bulls were so reliant on Michael Jordan? Yeah, but if they do really well when he's not there, that's a pretty good thing. And you want a player like that. Abby Wambach on the women's side is a world-class player. In everybody's estimation one of the two or three or four best players in the world. That's a good thing for us.
SI.com: So let me rephrase it then. In last year's World Cup any Best XI would have had one surefire U.S. player: Wambach. And there'd be a lot of Brazilians and Germans on that team.
Gulati: But a lot of Germans and Brazilians tainted by the fact we got hammered in the semifinal. On the left [Lori] Chalupny for us had a pretty darn good tournament last year. If we're playing in the final I'm not sure she's not on a lot of all-tournament teams. Heather O'Reilly would have been on some people's list. I understand what you're saying, that you've got one person you're so reliant on, and you don't have enough other good players.
I disagree with that premise. I think we have a lot of good players. I don't think last September a few of them who are capable of it performed to the level we had expected and hoped.
SI.com: Any other women's team issues?
Gulati: No. We'll see how the next few days goes. And that will determine a lot of our views on things.