He’s here! New US women’s national team head coach Vlatko Andonovski gave his first official press conference in New York today, joined on stage by USWNT GM Kate Markgraf and USSF president Carlos Cordeiro. The presser was mostly Markgraf and Andonovski going through the vetting process and their philosophies on how they’ll run the WNT, but Cordeiro was also asked about the federation’s legal dispute with the WNT over equal pay.
The interest parts were definitely coming from Markgraf and Andonvoski though, as they walked everyone through the hiring process. Markgraf said that she already had a list of Jill Ellis replacements this summer before she officially got the GM job, and that once she was on the search, she networked extensively as part of her due diligence. She spoke to current and former players of the coaches on her list, then narrowed it down to two candidates. Andonovski was obviously one of them; he came to Chicago and was required to do a presentation based on questions he was sent about technical/tactical problems and his managerial style. The search committee scored the candidates on these coaching domains, also taking into account each candidate’s previous successes and their responses to an on-the-spot tactical Q&A, then aggregated the scores. Markgraf made her recommendation for Andonovski based on this process and he was unanimously approved, with Andonovski telling reporters that everything became official just two days ago.
Markgraf said that when evaluating a coach, she likes to identify their style of play so she has a benchmark for whether they achieve that style against their opponents. She summarized Andonovksi’s style as “They like to have the ball, they’re very sound defensively, and they attack creatively.” These philosophies may change in their execution over time; Andonvoski said the game is changing from year to year, and that he not only has to keep up with global trends, but set some of those trends himself.
He was, of course, asked about approaching the Olympics as his first major task, but he demurred, reminding reporters that the United States must qualify first. “That’s going to be the first thing on the agenda,” he said. “We have a very, very experienced team. We have players that have been on the international stage that have won the big games, big tournaments, so we’re going to rely heavily on them. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to expand the roster.
What those changes might be, Andonvoski wouldn’t say specifically. He addressed Alex Morgan’s pregnancy by saying that her focus was a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby, and that they would address her return to the roster after that. Markgraf added that she had also gone through pregnancy while an active USWNT player, and that she had sent Morgan the name of the trainer she used to come back after giving birth to twins.
Crystal Dunn was another question mark during the press conference, as she has stated before that she feels immense pressure from having to switch between positions for her club and for country. Andonovski wouldn’t commit one way or another - understandable, given how much time he’s had to actually think about the job - but said that Dunn’s versatility makes her special, and that she and any other WNT player will be put in a position where the coaching staff feels they can thrive, get better, and help the team succeed.
Andonovski applied that to everyone on the team, and said that he appreciates that there are some strong personalities he’ll have to manage. “We’re saying how good all these players are, some of the best players, and there’s a reason for it,” he pointed out. “Some of the reasons are they’re very competitive, they’re driven, and they just want to play.” He said he never had a problem with national team players while at FC Kansas City or at the Reign. “They accept information very well as long as it’s direct, honest, clear, and concise,” he added.
Eventually, Andonvoski will work on adding depth to the USWNT player pool. He named Americans abroad, NWSL, and college soccer as resources he’ll tap, although that list is certainly non-exhaustive. As someone who worked his way here through his experiences and victories in NWSL, Andonvoski said he had already had numerous conversations with coaches in each market to “collaborate as much as possible.”
No USWNT conference would be complete these days without a question about equal pay. Andonovski gave a decidedly diplomatic answer when asked for his thoughts on the team’s dispute with US Soccer. “I’m very respectful of the drive, of the push that players have,” he said in regards to the players banding together to try to bring a class action suit against the federation. “In fact that’s positive for me, because it will translate to the field and I have no doubt in my mind when they step on the field they’re going to be focused on what’s important at the time.”
Carlos Cordeiro was slightly less circumspect, expressing his disappointment that the federation and the players were unable to come to an agreement through mediation.
“This is obviously a subject that’s pending litigation so I can’t get into a lot of details,” Cordeiro said. “But I would just reiterate what I said in the past which is the federation has always been committed to paying our senior national team players, both our women and our men, fairly, equitably, regardless of gender.”
“We’re still very committed to resolving this in a fair way, but I think at the end of the day that requires compromise. I think a lot of people forget that this federation is responsible for hundreds of players, girls and boys, at different levels. We’re responsible for our Paralympians, we now have a beach women’s soccer team, futsal. And all with a relatively limited budget. We don’t have unlimited financial resources. So we are constantly pressed.”
In the meantime, we’ll see what Andonovski can do with what he currently has. The team is headed into November camp soon and will be playing two friendlies, one against Sweden on November 7, and the other against Costa Rica on November 10. It’s a short turnaround for Andonovski, although he’s likely been thinking about this for longer than just two days. His and Markgraf’s comments do seem heartening, and a personable, tactically innovative coach is just what this team needs. Crunch time starts soon; good luck, Vlatko.