NEW YORK (AP) — Vlatko Andonovski is well aware of the expectations he faces as the new coach of the U.S women’s national team.
His predecessor, Jill Ellis, led the team to consecutive World Cup titles — an accomplishment her successor can only hope to equal.
“What this team has done and what Jill has done is absolutely amazing,” Andonovski said Monday at his introductory news conference. “Jill was hired to win one World Cup, and she won two. It just pushed the standards even higher. … I knew coming into it that it will be extremely important to win all the big tournaments.”
The native of Macedonia played for several teams in Europe before an indoor soccer career in the United States. He has coached in the National Women’s Soccer League for the past seven seasons, starting with FC Kansas City from the league’s inception in 2013 until the team folded in 2017 and winning two titles in that time. The 43-year-old joined Reign FC in 2017.
Hiring a new coach was the first major task for U.S. general manager Kate Markgraf since her hiring in August as the first person to hold that position.
“We identified the qualities we thought were most important for this unique position. We talked to quite a few people in the women’s soccer community domestically and around the world, and in the end, Vlatko was the best fit with his experience with elite players, how he sees the game, how he coaches the game and manages players, and his overall personality and ability to take on a job of this magnitude,” Markgraf said. “I know all the players and staff are excited to begin this new chapter in women’s national team history with him and start the important work towards qualifying for the Olympics.”
Ellis announced her departure from the national team a little more than three weeks after the United States beat the Netherlands in Lyon, France, for its fourth World Cup title. Her final match as coach came earlier this month when the team capped a five-game victory tour with a 1-1 draw with South Korea in Chicago.
Several players, including Allie Long and Emily Sonnett, spoke out in recent months in support of Andonovski.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “I think it’s very important to know that the players are excited just as well as me. They’re some of the best players in the world and to know the best players in the world valued the knowledge and understanding and the job that I do, it’s extremely important for me and I’m just humbled by that and some of their comments.”
Andonovski will immediately begin preparations for the U.S. team to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. He said there will be a camp before a pair of exhibition matches: against Sweden in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 7, and against Costa Rica in Jacksonville, Florida, on Nov. 10. That will be followed by another camp in December.
The new coach talked about the need to adapt as the sport evolves and grows around the world.
“If we don’t follow the trends, all the other national teams are going to catch up with us,” he said. “At the same time, I don’t just want to follow the trends, I want to set some of those trends. We want to be creative and we want to be leaders in those trends.”
Asked about expanding the player pool for the national team, Andonovski said he plans to consider players everywhere.
“Anywhere we think we can find a player or two to make this team better and help us win games, we’re going to consider that player, whether it’s NWSL, Europe, anywhere in the world, or college soccer,” he said. “We’re going to look very thorough and do the research involved to make it possible.”