It started to percolate during the latest Summer Olympics, delayed a year to 2021 because of the pandemic. The United States women’s national team — the former two-time-defending World Cup champions — not only looked vulnerable, but they also appeared average. Not average for the Stars and Stripes — regular-boring-old average. Not pulling the pink slip out on Vlatko Andonovski then was a small risk that turned into a catastrophic misread over the next two years. The unraveling of the USWNT happened clear as day by the time the team set foot at the World Cup, ending with one win in four games and a Round of 16 exit against Sweden. Turns out, those inside the American captain knew it too.
While speaking with her pair of two-time World Cup-winning teammates Christen Press and Tobin Heath on their RE-INC YouTube channel, Lindsey Horan said the team didn’t make the most of the USWNT’s limited opportunities together over the last four years. Andonovski “mutually agreed” with US Soccer to leave his post atop the squad last week, but that was to save face for the federation not punting him over the highway like Baxter in Anchorman.
“When a coach comes in, it’s like ‘Hey, how do we get the best out of every single individual player, putting the most simplicity into a 10-day camp every few months? And getting the best out of your team and without overcomplicating everything?’” Horan said. “Because yeah, I could talk about the last 4-year cycle and we don’t need to get into every single thing, but that’s not what we did. We did not get the best out of every single individual. I don’t think everyone was fully prepared, and that’s on us as well.”
Horan taking ownership when things go wrong is exactly what a captain should do. She scored half of the Americans’ four goals at the World Cup and was the only one to find the back of the net against another team besides tournament-opening foe Vietnam. If you could make an argument as to which Americans were most prepared to play at a World Cup, if the list didn’t start with Horan, it’s only because you put her below Naomi Girma. That’s it. Even players who’d been on the global stage multiple times looked disinterested. Alex Morgan was a step slow throughout all four games and Megan Rapinoe’s appearances off the bench inspired little confidence. Andonovski was the opposite of proactive when facing turbulence at a World Cup. He was nonchalant, and even in situations where adjustments were plain as day, he might’ve been sleeping on the bench. Carli Lloyd’s criticisms landed as smoothly as a pinecone, but her beliefs about Andonovski proved to be spot on.
The excuse of the rest of the world catching up diminishing the United States’ success is only partially true. With one more goal against the Netherlands or Portugal, the USWNT plays South Africa in the Round of 16, not Sweden. After an easier matchup to start the knockout rounds, the quarterfinals proved to be anyone’s game. And maybe the Americans could’ve been the ones to derail the Spanish. We’ll never know now thanks to horrible decisions from Andonovski.
Horan and the rest of her teammates know the next major tournament for the USWNT is next summer at the Olympics. The Stars and Stripes should look completely different at that event, with it being one of the only tests between now and 2027 to compare themselves with the rest of the world. It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n roll, and the Americans have mightily fallen off their world-leading perch. And Horan simply put the mistakes made by Andonovski out there for the world to see. Even if we all knew them already, hearing them from an insider is one baby step toward redemption.