The Victory Tour for the United States women’s national team also serves as a farewell tour for their manager, Jill Ellis, who earned a 105th win as head coach on Tuesday night, tying the late, legendary Tony DiCicco for most in program history.
Over her five-year tenure as head coach, Ellis’ core stayed rather intact. Boasting the oldest squad by average age at this summer’s World Cup, the U.S. carried over 12 players from 2015 to 2019. The impending 2020 Olympics and 2023 World Cup signal a transition, though, and with that will come a new manager. If the players have their choice, that manager will be Vlatko Andonovski.
The second-year Reign FC head coach, a 42-year-old from Macedonia, was a journeyman player in Europe before several seasons in the American indoor leagues. He began his coaching career in 2010 and joined the staff of former NWSL club FC Kansas City in 2013, where he became head coach and won two NWSL Championships.
“He’s probably one of the most intelligent soccer brains that I’ve ever come across,” Reign FC and U.S. national team midfielder Allie Long said in an interview at Red Bull Arena last month. “He is extremely prepared in every sense. He knows the game so well, he studies it, he puts so much time into it.
“And he’s probably one of the best people I’ve met, in how he manages players. I think that that is very overlooked, because you think when you get to this level everyone’s good, you don’t need to really manage them. But I think Vlatko would be, in my mind, the best candidate for it, and not just because he’s my head coach. If I retired tomorrow, I would still say that.”
Amplifying that notion is Emily Sonnett, who, unlike Long, plays for Reign FC’s bitter Cascadia rival. Despite that, the Portland Thorns outside back told The BS Podcast in late July that Andonovski was her choice, pointing to the impact he had on Becky Sauerbrunn, a fellow defender from Virginia.
“You know, I look up to Becky Sauerbrunn,” Sonnett said. “I think she’s so good, she had the same college coach, and I now get to play with her and see [her development]. She had Vlatko (in Kansas City). He played center back, and what I’ve seen him do with her and some of the other players that he’s had, like, internationals, I think has been incredible.
“And, I’ve only heard great things about him. So, that’s why I always say, before I’m done, I hope I get coached by Vlatko.”
Andonovski is the favorite on a shortlist that includes the Utah Royals’ Laura Harvey and Penn State’s Erica Dambach, according to ESPN’s Julie Foudy. Long may not be able to speak for everyone, but the veteran midfielder rounded out her mixed zone interview with a definitive line on the subject.
“I think U.S. Soccer deserves a coach like (Vlatko) in the system,” she said. “And I’m so excited that Kate [Markgraf] is the GM…I hope that she looks at Vlatko seriously because, I think the whole team wants Vlatko.”