The United States women’s national team has convened in Columbus for a camp ahead of its final two matches of the year, marking the official start of Vlatko Andonovski’s tenure as the team’s head coach.
“So far, it’s been amazing,” Andonovski said after leading his first training session Saturday. “First, everybody is so welcoming and so nice, so helpful. It’s just a great environment and it’s very positive.”
The players agreed, with defender Becky Sauerbrunn noting that there were “a lot of smiles” to open up camp. Lavelle said the group was excited about beginning work with Andonovski.
“It’s like first day of school vibes, but it was fun,” Lavelle said. “I feel like we’re all in good spirits.”
The first match of the Andonovski era comes against Sweden Nov. 7 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The U.S. plays its final match of the year Nov. 10 against Costa Rica at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.
Though the team is still basking in the glow of back-to-back World Cup victories, an immediate task lies ahead as the countdown to the Olympic Games in Tokyo begins. The team is expected to qualify this winter, and then medal at the Olympics this summer.
“Vlatko actually said in his opening meeting, ‘What you guys have done is great, but now that’s in the past and it’s time to reset and refocus on what’s next,’” Lavelle said. “This is the first step of that, so we’re all really excited, but also ready to move on and get focused on 2020.”
As a result, the players did not ease into their first training session with a new coach.
“The energy was amazing,” Andonovski said. “At times, we actually had to tone it down because it was getting a little bit over the line, but it’s hard to manage sometimes the intensity and the energy of the players. That’s just who they are. They’re competitive. As soon as you roll the ball, they go at each other.”
From the players’ perspective, they were eager to show off their talents with the Olympics little more than nine months away.
“It’s a new chapter with a new coaching staff,” Sauerbrunn said of a staff that includes Andonovski’s assistant coach at FC Kansas City and Reign FC, Milan Ivanovic. “Everyone’s excited and ready to show what they can do. We all know that we’re being evaluated now in preparation for the Olympics.”
Overall, the respect Andonovski has for the players seems to be mutual early on in his tenure. Sauerbrunn, who previously played for him in Kansas City, spoke of his ability to develop and “bring the best out of his players” when he was named Jill Ellis’s successor a week ago. Lavelle, working with him for the first time, also spoke her experience so far.
“He’s been stopping a lot of times and giving us different pointers,” Lavelle said of his training sessions. “I feel like he’s someone we’re going to learn a lot from and I think it’s an exciting direction for this team to move.”