NEW YORK — Back in the early 2000s, Vlatko Andonovski was playing professional indoor soccer. He was an immigrant from North Macedonia to the United States, and was running around on Astroturf inside hockey boards for teams that included the Philadelphia Kixx in 2005-06.
On Monday, he got the biggest job in the American game, becoming the U.S. women’s national team’s 10th coach in its 34-year history.
“When I look back, I could not believe that was going to happen,” he said at a news conference Monday afternoon. “When I came to the country, first of all, it was for me to enjoy the game and play the game that I love. I never even thought about being a coach. But once I started coaching in the back of my mind, I thought about it all the time.”
Andonovski has been on the minds of American women’s soccer fans for quite a while too. He was the popular choice to succeed Jill Ellis since well before she announced in July that she would step down in October.
Most recently the coach of Tacoma, Wash.-based NWSL team Reign FC, the 43-year-old Andonovski took the club to the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, and was the league’s coach of the year this year. Before moving to Cascadia, he managed now-defunct FC Kansas City from 2013-16, winning championships in 2014 and ’15.
“I'm very proud to say that we selected the best candidate for the job with the best fit,” said U.S. women’s team general manager Kate Markgraf, a 1999 World Cup champion who in August became the team’s first ever GM.
Markgraf revealed that when she was hired, she already had a list of potential candidates and people to talk to about them, from her days as a player and as a TV analyst for ESPN. She took in quite a bit of input from current and former players along the way, and worked with Federation sporting director (and former Union sporting director) Earnie Stewart.
“I think player input is always very valuable — not just player input, but past player input,” Markgraf said. “Not only did I talk to current and former players that played for Vlatko — or played for a bunch of different coaches that perhaps were on my list — I also talked to coaches that have worked with them or had been there for part of their coaching education, both domestically and internationally.”
Markgraf narrowed her decision to two candidates — she didn’t reveal who the other one was — and invited both to give presentations at the U.S. Soccer Federation’s Chicago headquarters. There were some pop quizzes as well, of course, including watching each candidate in a film breakdown session.
To no one’s surprise, Andonovski aced it all.
“He has this unique ability to really get the best out of every player and meet them where they’re at,” Reign midfielder and current FIFA World Player of the Year Megan Rapinoe said in a statement issued by U.S. Soccer. “So, he sort of treats every player the same but understands that every player isn’t the same. And then his tactical flexibility and knowledge is tremendous. Even being in the NWSL, I don’t think he’s really able to put on his full arsenal of what he knows.”
The rest of the world is about to find out.
Watch video below of the news conference Andonovski, Markgraf and U.S. Soccer Federation president Carlos Cordeiro held Monday afternoon.