WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- In advance of her team's Women's World Cup game against the United States on Friday, Sweden women's national team coach Pia Sundhage attempted to clarify her comments about American players Carli Lloyd, Hope Solo and Abby Wambach, among others, that appeared in a New York Times article this week.
Sundhage coached the United States to Olympic gold medals in 2008 and '12 and a second-place finish in the 2011 Women's World Cup. All three players were on each of those teams, although Wambach was unable to play in the 2008 Olympics because of injury.
"The reason I'm sitting here is because of the U.S. team," Sundhage said Thursday, noting she made the comments in an April interview. "They made me look good -- three finals. And Carli Lloyd scored the winning goal in the Olympics both times, actually."
Lloyd made her World Cup debut for the United States in 2007, before Sundhage took over, but established herself as one of the midfield mainstays for the Americans during the coach's tenure. In the Times article, Sundhage was quoted as describing Lloyd as "a challenge to coach," and a player who could be among the best players when she felt supported by the staff and one of the worst when she didn't.
On Thursday, Sundhage referenced Lloyd as one of her favorite players she has coached.
"Carli Lloyd is a player, like, sometimes smarter than I am," Sundhage said. "The message I tried to give her and her role, sometimes she thought about it and had some questions about it, and she didn't do what we were supposed to do. And that's exactly what coaching's about. That's my job to make sure she is a team player. And she was a team player and scored a lot of goals. And was, I would say, one of the most important players I've ever had. But I could bring up examples in the Swedish team, as well. Some of the players, they are very challenging, and those players, they create gold. Those players who always do exactly what I say, that's not good."
Solo came back into the national team fold when Sundhage took over after the goalkeeper was sent home prior to the third-place game in the 2007 World Cup under former coach Greg Ryan following comments critical of his decision to bench her in favor of veteran Briana Scurry in the ill-fated semifinal loss to Brazil. The Times article said Sundhage also described Solo as one of the most challenging players she ever coached.
The coach didn't attempt to dispute that Thursday as much as explain her reasoning.
"When it comes to Hope Solo, she's a piece of work," Sundhage said. "And that's good, as well, because things happen around her. ... Something happens outside the field, but when it comes to two halves of 45 minutes, she is the best goalkeeper in the world.
"So why wouldn't you try to make her happy? And at the same time, have a team spirit. It's a little bumpy road."
As for Wambach, the all-time goals leader in women's soccer, Sundhage told the Times she would not start the 35-year-old forward were she still coach of the American team and said she told the player as much. She explained Thursday that her motivation would be to prolong the veteran's career as long as possible, but she also reversed course after watching Wambach play a full 90 minutes in an opening win against Australia.
"You have players starting the game, but you have players that will end the game," Sundhage said. "And Abby is a player that will make the difference [at the end of games]. So I would have that in my back pocket and throw her in and win the game. Now, I don't know the team today, but I saw the game against Australia, and today, playing against Sweden, I would start her because she's that good."
Asked about the Times article a day earlier, United States coach Jill Ellis said she had been alerted to it by the U.S. team's press officer but didn't elaborate.