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Vlatko Andonovski looks to evolve, not change USWNT as next head coach

Andonovski’s hiring is not just a test for him, but for new general manager Kate Markgraf.

Vlatko Andonovski poses for photographers during a news conference Monday, Oct. 28, 2019, in New York. Andonovski is the new coach of U.S. Women's National Team. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

NEW YORK — The United States women’s national team is entering a new era. The team has the task of following up a rare World Cup double and maintaining the high levels of success that have defined the program since its creation. And the job of leading that process has officially gone to Vlatko Andonovski, who was introduced as the program’s new head coach Monday at Hotel Eventi in Manhattan.

Andonovski said he’s well aware of the pressure he faces to move the world’s best women’s soccer team forward.

Jill was hired to win one World Cup and she won two,” Andonovski said of former coach Jill Ellis, who stepped down in October. “It just pushed the standard even higher and made the whole job, I guess, to be even more stressful at times but for me, I was very well aware of it.”

The North Macedonia-born coach will have to prove his ability quickly. Qualification for next summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo take place this winter. His first match in charge will come in a little more than two weeks, Nov. 7 against Sweden. It will be his first chance to start honing a plan for the Olympics.

We have a very experienced team,” Andonovski said. “We have players that have been on the international stage, on big teams in big tournaments. So we’re going to rely heavily on them, but that does not mean we’re not going to expand the roster.”

That includes looking at players plying their trade outside of the National Women’s Soccer League and the American collegiate game.

The next several months will not just test Andonovski, but Kate Markgraf. The team’s first general manager, Markgraf was hired in August with her first task to hire Ellis’s successor. Andonovski’s success will in part go hand in hand with hers.

When I was hired in mid-August officially, I had already put together a list of potential candidates that could take over for Jill in case she decided to step down,” Markgraf said. “That list had begun in June or July, and then when I officially got the nod in August, I had a diverse list of candidates.”

Markgraf added names to the list upon recommendations from others, and then reached out to a large group of coaches “just to introduce myself and to build that comfort level” before an official interview. Markgraf then narrowed the list to two candidates, who then gave presentations to a committee that included U.S. Soccer vice president Cindy Parlow Cone.

They had to present a presentation based on a couple different questions, where we were able to assess and give them scores based on the different domains that make a coach successful,” Markgraf said. “Some of those are technical, tactical questions, others of those are managerial experience, success, records. All that was created to come up with an aggregate score, and then from there, it was how they presented in that room, how they were able to detail and inform of us what they know and then also from what we saw when we were able to put them under the gun and did a spontaneous, without them knowing, Q-and-A session tactically, when we asked them to break down a game.”

The U.S. Soccer board unanimously chose Andonovski on Saturday.

In addition to a successful presentation, Markgraf noted Andonovski’s record as coach of FC Kansas City and Reign FC in the NWSL spoke for itself. She noted a tactical preference to have the ball and “attack creatively” even without star players. That should serve Andonovski well as he aims not only to win an Olympic gold medal in a matter of months, but do so against opponents that continue to get better as more federations invest in their women’s programs.

This game has evolved from World Cup to World Cup, but this game has also evolved from year to year,” Andonovski said.

That is ultimately why he chooses to define his tenure not as changing the national team, but evolving it.

“If we don’t follow those trends, then 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 innovative. We want to be leaders in some of those trends.”

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