Steve Swanson will begin his 20th season in charge of the Virginia women’s soccer program next month. During his tenure, the Cavaliers have won nearly 300 games and reached the NCAA round of 16 in 14 straight seasons.
Swanson spent this summer as an assistant coach for the U.S. women’s team during its run to a second straight Women’s World Cup title.
“It was a wonderful adventure,” Swanson said. “It was an amazing amount of work and a lot of smiles at the end.”
The UVA coach has been involved with the U.S. women’s soccer program in some capacity since 1999. Swanson was responsible for youth teams until 2005, before taking a break to focus on family and his coaching career at Virginia. He returned in 2011, coaching the U-20 and U-23 teams.
When Jill Ellis, a William & Mary alumnus, was named head coach of the national team, he joined her staff.
Since then, he’s experienced the highs and lows of international soccer. In 2015, he watched as Carli Lloyd and Abby Wambach led the U.S. to the World Cup title. A year later, Swanson experienced the disappointment of the United States’ loss to Sweden in the 2016 Olympics.
Swanson joined the U.S. team full time in January and has spent the past seven months working with Ellis and the other coaches to devise a plan to bring home the World Cup.
In the group stage, Swanson watched as three of his former players at Virginia took the field for the United States. Defender Becky Sauerbrunn started every game of the tournament, while midfielder Morgan Brian and defender Emily Sonnett, who battled through myriad injuries to make the squad, saw action in the match with Chile.
Swanson took a lot of pride in watching his former players have success on the world stage.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “In 2015, I went to it with Morgan and Becky, but this time it was special to have all three of them and they all made huge contributions. Becky was an integral part [defensively] and Emily has been a big part of this team for the last couple of years. Morgan’s situation was in doubt, but to her credit, to come back and make the team was a real testament to her. All three were big parts of the team and tremendous representatives of Virginia soccer.”
Another memorable part of the tournament was the overwhelming support of the fans at games. Swanson said this World Cup appeared to be more competitive, with more teams than ever before that could win the title.
Nowhere was this more evident than the Americans’ quarterfinal game against host France in Paris.
“I felt a real honor to be involved in that game,” Swanson said. “We were not the home team in that game for sure and that environment was special. So many people were watching and it was the most sought-after ticket. That environment showed how far women’s soccer has come.”
For Swanson, one of the more memorable moments of the tournament had nothing to do with any action on the field. On the bus trip back to the hotel, the U.S. bus turned down a road with a group of approximately 100 Dutch supporters and the group stopped in unison.
“They walked together to the curb and stood and clapped,” Swanson said. “It was an amazing sign of respect and made you feel good about the sport. Here’s another country’s fans that could appreciate the game and quality of play between two extraordinary teams and giving their support. It was amazing.”
After nearly seven months with the national team, Swanson is back in Charlottesville and hopes to use the World Cup win as motivation this fall as he leads the Cavaliers.
“It’s an education for me,” Swanson said. “I’ve been fortunate to be on three world championship teams, but I consider myself a coach that’s still learning, trying to grow and do right by the players and the university you coach. My task every day is how can I be the best coach I can be to help the players develop and reach their goals.
“I’m very fortunate that I’m at a school like Virginia that will allow me to do this. I feel like I’ve learned an awful lot. I’ve listened and learned and I think I’m a better coach for coaching in that environment. Hopefully I can continue to give back to the program in the ways that I’ve been blessed to receive.”