USWNT Commentary

Andonovski is the correct choice to lead the USWNT in time of transition

Vlatko Andonovski has been named the new manager of the USWNT and ASN's John Halloran agrees that he is the right choice to lead the team in a period where change is on the horizon.
BY John Halloran Posted
October 29, 2019
2:00 AM
ON MONDAY, U.S. Soccer announced Vlatko Andonovski as the next coach of the United States women’s national team. The 43-year-old, originally from North Macedonia, takes over the program following the departure of head coach Jill Ellis earlier this month.

Andonovski seemed to be the near-unanimous No. 1 choice of fans, pundits, and insiders to take over the job. Over seven years in the National Women’s Soccer League, his teams won two championships and earned playoff appearances in five of seven seasons. He also has a reputation for exceptional player management skills and impeccable game preparation.

However, Andonovski comes into the job in a remarkable time of transition. Challenges abound, and his first big test—the 2020 Olympics—is only nine months away.

With such a short window until the Tokyo Games, Andonovski will have a limited timeframe to look at new players or new tactical ideas. And picking a roster for the Olympics is even more challenging than a World Cup because the roster shrinks from 23 players to 18. Even if he doesn’t bring a single new face into the pool in the next year, he’d still have to cut five players that won a world championship this summer in France.

He’ll also have to decide allocation spots for the 2020 NWSL season. Those allocations—where players are provided year-long compensation for national team duties, plus additional money for their play in the league—are about four times higher than the maximum league salary.

Both of these situations present immediate pitfalls for Andonovski. Not picking a player for a major tournament always causes waves; Not offering allocated status to a player can drastically affect their financial bottom line.

Then comes playing time.

It’s no secret that several players were unhappy with their roles on the team over the past few years and Andonovski surely won’t select the same starting XI that Ellis did during last summer World Cup. Despite his excellent reputation for managing his players, benching a national team starter can be a dangerous proposition.

Ellis survived an internal revolt in 2017 caused, in part, by these types of issues. A similar revolt meant the end of Tom Sermanni’s short tenure in 2014.

Then there is the player pool itself—one that is beset by injuries. Kelley O’Hara missed the last three months of the NWSL season with another ankle injury. Crystal Dunn walked out of the stadium after Sunday’s NWSL championship game in a boot and Tierna Davidson did the same on crutches. Most of the national team players are battling numerous other knocks; all of them are utterly exhausted.

And, yes, Alex Morgan is pregnant and may or may not be back for the Olympics.

Ellis struggled to get the team back into top form for the 2016 Olympics following the 2015 World Cup win and facing a similar combination of exhaustion and injuries. Andonovski will have the same challenge, although does seem to have some leeway in that regard. One detail that emerged on Monday is that Andonovski’s contract runs through 2023 which, at the very least, is meant to imply that he’ll be given a full cycle to show his mettle.

Yet a full cycle will present additional challenges. The U.S. had the oldest roster at the 2019 World Cup and some of the team’s current players will need to be cast aside as he develops and brings in the next generation of talent. This in and of itself often made Ellis the target of derision.

All of these potential issues are enough to remind anyone that Ellis not only successfully managed to slalom through these challenges, but won two world championships while doing so.

Andonovski absolutely seems like the correct choice, and certainly has the right skill set for the job. He is also taking over a team that has won back-to-back World Cups, is loaded with world-class talent, and already has a deeply-engrained winning culture.

Still, the pressures and demands of managing the U.S. women’s national team also make the position the single most difficult one in the entire world of women’s soccer.

John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

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