For once, U.S. Soccer is doing something smart. The federation confirmed that it will announce the next manager of the USWNT on Monday, and multiple reports, including from Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl, say the choice is going to be Reign FC boss Vlatko Andonovski. Rejoice, because this is the right choice.
When manager Jill Ellis stepped down from the gig shortly after the World Cup, knowledgeable USWNT fans immediately zeroed in on Andonovski as her logical replacement. His resume is sterling. He won back-to-back NWSL championships with FC Kansas City in 2014 and 2015 before jumping over to Reign FC in 2017, where he made the playoffs in both of his seasons in charge. His accomplishments with the Reign this past year are particularly impressive. Despite losing several star players such as Megan Rapinoe, Allie Long, and Australia vice-captain Steph Catley to the World Cup this past summer, Andonovski still got the under-manned Reign into the playoffs.
Perhaps the most important part of the USWNT manager job is the relationship with the player pool, which is brimming with big talents and strong personalities. Ellis famously clashed with a variety of players throughout her tenure, including most recently with Carli Lloyd. Andonovski, at least initially, shouldn’t have any problems there. He has already managed a handful of USWNT stars during his stints around the NWSL, and his former charges are big fans. Three current USWNTers who have played for Andonovski—Rapinoe, Long, and Becky Sauerbrunn—have expressed their admiration for his intelligence as a tactical coach and backed him for the job. Along with those who’ve played for him, Andonovski has built good relationships with other players from around the league who’ve seen his work from afar. In other words, Andonovski has the support of pretty much everyone involved to take over as the 10th head coach in USWNT history.
So, how will the team actually play under the 43-year-old Macedonian-American? That’s more complicated. Ellis was, for all her success, a stubborn tactician who routinely made questionable substitution decisions. It worked out in the end, but there’s long been a sense that the team is capable of more. Andonovski is the opposite kind of coach, preferring tactical experimentation and flexibility depending on his team’s strengths and the opposition.
But don’t expect too much chopping in changing from Andonovski’s USWNT in the short term. The team’s makeup and playing style likely won’t be too much different during next summer’s Olympics than it was during last summer’s World Cup. Once the Olympics are over, the new coach will then have a full three years to put his personal touch on the team heading into the 2023 World Cup.
The job won’t be easy. Though Ellis had her detractors, she’s still leaving Andonovski an enormous pair of shoes to fill as a two-time World Cup champion. The new manager will also need to manage the delicate task of transitioning from the team’s aging core into a new generation of stars, which is a particularly touchy matter when dealing with several all-time greats who will not go gentle into that good night. But Andonovski could not be better prepared to succeed. He has a clean slate, an array of veteran talent and hungry upstarts, and a deep well of support from everyone who matters. If his past accomplishments and fresh approach are indicative of what’s to come, there’s no better person to guide the team forward into a new era.
Update (10/28, 4:23 p.m. EDT): It’s official, Andonovski is the new head coach of the USWNT.