Reign FC head coach Vlatko Andonovski is probably the next US women’s national team coach. While US Soccer won’t confirm that one way or the other, BBC leaked the news on Monday and it very much feels like fait accompli. Andonovski coaching his way into the role shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, and there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the pick, given his record in NWSL and his demonstrated abilities to both develop talent and adapt to his circumstances.
This could also be one of the smoothest coach transitions so far in USWNT history. Andonovski isn’t stepping in after a contentious period or a series of losses or a player revolt. Jill Ellis is willingly stepping aside after a very successful World Cup campaign and a long, mostly-prosperous period for the team. It’s as ordered a succession as you could hope for, which is what you want when you’re right in between major tournaments.
Andonovski is pretty much being set up to succeed here with the combination of the timing, the circumstances, and his own pedigree. He’s a well-respected coach, even among players that aren’t on his team. He has a reputation for being someone who gets excited over development, who thinks carefully and plots meticulously around maximizing his roster’s abilities. His peers among the ranks of NWSL head coaches are entirely complimentary of both his tactical nous and his friendship.
Perhaps more importantly, he’ll have the support of influential players on the team. Becky Sauerbrunn played for Andonovski at FC Kansas City, where they won two championships together, and Megan Rapinoe currently plays for him with the Reign. Both have openly vouched for his abilities as a coach and supported him should he get the job.
Once Andonovski is installed, he might have the Olympics looming large over him, but he has at least two important things working in his favor. First, he’ll have to do minimal development on the roster. With only 18 spots allowed, there won’t be much room to bring in anyone new, given who is available to him from the World Cup roster. There aren’t a ton of big retirements opening up huge gaps in his roster pool either. His biggest decision might be whether to cut Carli Lloyd, and good luck to the brave coach who has to break that news to her.
But Andonovksi does essentially have a ready-made roster for the Olympics. That doesn’t mean it’ll be easy, or that he can just put any starting XI on the field and sit back. But he would have a team that should still have good rapport from the World Cup, and several proven strategies already in the playbook. He’ll have a midfield in its prime between Lindsey Horan, Julie Ertz, Sam Mewis, Rose Lavelle, and a hopefully still-healthy Morgan Brian. It’s a world’s-tiniest-violin kind of problem to have, to have to choose just 18 names from the current US player pool.
The second thing working in Andonovski’s favor is that he should have at least two tournaments to settle down before this summer: Concacaf Olympic qualifying and SheBelieves. Qualifying will be a mix of games, with the US facing varied difficulty levels amongst their own confederation, which will probably let a new coach do some minor tinkering, but mostly get to see the team under tournament conditions. SheBelieves will provide three good top-level games to help sharpen the team’s edge. And of course, NWSL will be ongoing during this period, and Andonvoski would undoubtedly keep a close eye on a league with which he has an intimate familiarity.
None of this is to say that it’ll be easy, or that Andonovski (or any coach) won’t have his work cut out for him. But he would be coming in to a fairly settled team and wouldn’t have to soothe any ruffled feathers, as far as we know. He won’t be serenading the team with a guitar and crooning “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” And on the flip side, if Andonovski is set up to succeed, that just adds more pressure not to fail. No one wants to be the coach that squanders a set up like this.
In the meantime Andonovski is busy trying to get the Reign to a championship. He probably would have preferred any news to wait until after playoffs are over. But that’s what you want from a USWNT coach: someone who can focus on the job, who cares about league play, and isn’t perpetually keeping one eye on the greener grass the next hill over. When he’s ready, though, so is the team.