Vlatko Andonovski would have enough on his plate just trying to prepare his Reign FC players for Sunday’s first round of the NWSL playoffs.
But there’s more than that, and he isn’t hiding from it.
Andonovski is the overwhelming favorite to be named the next U.S. women’s national team coach, as reported by Equalizer Soccer, the BBC and ESPN. He has been a leading candidate ever since Jill Ellis announced in late July that she would step down at the end of October, and frankly, he was a leading candidate for the job well before then.
His odds improved further when Utah Royals manager Laura Harvey told media in Salt Lake City on Sunday that she isn’t getting the job.
There is no deal with Andonovski yet, though. On Tuesday, a U.S. Soccer spokesperson told Sports Illusrated that no final decision has been made, and Andonovski himself said similar things in two separate interviews.
First, Andonovski told The Athletic: “Not at this time, it’s not correct. But at the same time, anything can happen, right?"
That’s a pretty big caveat, and fans took it as such on social media.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Andonovski took part in a conference call hosted by the NWSL previewing Sunday’s game against the North Carolina Courage, in which the No. 4-seed Reign will try to topple the No. 1 seed and defending champions on their home field (3:30 p.m., ESPN2).
Asked by The Inquirer whether the reports about him have been a distraction, Andonovski replied: “I have to say, it hasn’t been any distraction to me. And it’s interesting, you know, the things that are going on in the news, because I would say that as of right now, none of that is true.”
That was as much as he said on the subject.
“I will just stay at that, and would love to talk more about the upcoming game, because that’s the only thing that I’m focused on right now,” he said. “I want to do [the] best for the for the team, for myself, for the organization and for all the Reign FC fans.”
“As of right now” was, of course, another caveat. Andonovski knows the chatter about him isn’t going anywhere, either within the media or within the U.S. team’s rabid fan base. Especially because the Americans’ next game is Nov. 7. It will be the first for the new coach, the first after the team’s post-World Cup victory tour, and the first in which the program turns its focus toward next summer’s Olympics.
Andonovski already has endorsements from multiple players on this summer’s World Cup team, including Allie Long (who plays for the Reign), Emily Sonnett (of the rival Portland Thorns), and Becky Sauerbrunn (a former national team captain who played for him at now-defunct FC Kansas City).
On Tuesday, Courage manager Paul Riley added his voice to the chorus.
“I think he’d be a terrific new coach of the national team,” said Riley, who led the former Philadelphia Independence to playoff finals in 2010 and 2011. “He’s got everything that I think that you need.”
When the NWSL launched in 2013, Andonovski brought many of Riley’s old players to Kansas City, made the semifinals that year, then won championshps in 2014 and 2015.
Last year, Andonovski and Riley took U.S. Soccer’s Pro License coaching course together. They went from colleagues to close friends.
“He’s one of my favorite people in the world, to be honest with you," Riley said. “A very good friend, he’s a brilliant coach. ... We got really close during that year during the pro course together, running things off each other and talking football for days.”