As soon as it was announced that Jill Ellis was stepping down as the United States Women’s National Team head coach, thoughts turned to who might replace her. Various lists turned up in all the normal spots on social media and in articles, but the most interesting list was from Kate Markgraf.
While her role as an analyst and as a player with a couple hundred caps definitely justifies her having an opinion, her opinion might just be a little more valid than most. The reports are that Markgraf is the leading candidate for the new GM role for the U.S. Women’s National Team. Sources are indicating that the job is already hers and it is just waiting to be announced.
Markgraf revealed that the top candidates are probably Laura Harvey, Paul Riley, Vlatko Andonovski, and Mark Krikorian. Taking that list and adding Steve Swanson, another candidate that is mentioned often we look at some of the positives and negatives of the top candidates.
Vlatko Andonovski (Reign FC)
Andonovski was a surprise to those outside of Kansas City when he was named FC Kansas City’s coach. With a team that was always lacking resources he was able to win two of the first three NWSL Championships and contend in all but one year.
· All of Andonovski’s teams have been well coached and tactically sound, playing quality, attacking style while being defensively sound.
· Andonovski has been key in developing all of his players, national team regulars to undrafted college players.
· Andonovski has been the difference in big games, making tactical game plans and making changes during matches.
· Player evaluation and planning has been excellent. Before the celebration was over when FC Kansas City won their first NWSL Championship, he had already decided what he needed to win the next.
· His teams tend to start slow at the beginning of the season. Much of that has been because of the turnover necessitated with small rosters, injuries and pregnancies.
Laura Harvey (Utah Royals FC)
Harvey will be a popular choice amongst fans. She has been reasonably successful and is the only woman in the top candidates.
· Harvey led Seattle to the best regular season record in back-to-back seasons.
· Players all seem to like her on a personal level.
· While her teams have mostly been competitive and she gets along well with players, perhaps too well. The regular season and player friendly style has not turned into big-game success and she has missed the postseason more times than she has made it.
· She has been resistant to adapting to changing situations and will stick with a plan and style even when it is clear it needs to change.
· Harvey may have already burned her bridges with U.S. Soccer. She was headed to a role with U.S. Soccer when she left Seattle but that fell through. Sources indicate that she would have been the U-23 team coach and an assistant under Ellis and the heir apparent for when Ellis left. That fell through when the Federation believed she was communicating with players that were working to get Ellis fired. That left a bad taste with many in the Federation at that time.
Paul Riley (North Carolina Courage)
Naturally he is a candidate with his success in the NWSL but several questions/doubts were communicated by various sources about Riley.
· Riley has won a couple of NWSL titles with the Western New York Flash and the North Carolina Courage and had competitive teams.
· Was a candidate when Ellis was hired as the head coach and U.S. Soccer did not want him then.
· Jaelene Hinkle plays for him in North Carolina and many believe that he would want to call her up if he was the USWNT coach. A move that would be controversial and cause issues with many of the current players. Future GM Markgraff has been critical of Hinkle as well.
· Riley has sometimes struggled with the big personalities and egos of the higher profile players, doing better with teams that have less superstars while playing more physical.
Steve Swanson (Virginia/USWNT)
He has been in the system for a long time and is an obvious candidate for that reason. Had success with the U-20’s in 2012.
· Has been in the U.S. Soccer system for a while now and knows the federation and the players.
· With Virginia he has had a fair amount of success and developed a number of players including current USWNT member Emily Sonnett.
· Has been in the U.S. Soccer system for a while and they seem to be looking for a change. Some of the players have indicated they don’t want more of the same and that is what Swanson would represent.
· Never made it all the way with Virginia, coming up short despite having some very good teams.
Mark Krikorian (Florida State University)
Markgraf’s list and sources indicate that US Soccer is interested in him, but no one is sure if he wants to do it. He is fresh off the 2018 NCAA championship and he was a U.S. youth coach with the U-19’s in 2004.
· Developed multiple NWSL players including six first round draft picks at a routinely strong school.
· Has has had success coaching in college.
· He has been away from U.S. Soccer for a long, long time and a lot has changed since then. The professional and international game has evolved a lot in the last few years and managing the top players in the world is vastly more challenging than a group of college kids.
Handicapping the candidates:
There are other candidates on various lists, but these are the top five based on Markgraf’s list and other sources.
It would be difficult for a college coach to step up to the job now. The job is far different than when Anson Dorrance and Tony DiCicco stepped up to create the legacy of the U.S. Women’s National Team.
The modern game is different, the players more complex and the opposition getting better around the world each year. Many college coaches struggle when moving up to the professional level, much less the international level.
For that reason, Krikorian should be eliminated from the list. He is an excellent coach that would need to show he could work at the international level again before being considered for the top with the USWNT. With Swanson not on Markgraf’s list, he may already be eliminated from consideration. Again, players have indicated they want to move on from the status quo.
So that leaves the three NWSL coaches; Harvey, Riley and Andonovski. Riley and Andonovski both have the U.S. Soccer Pro License under their belt and have both achieved results in the league.
Many fans and pundits will push for Harvey as she is the only women on the list. It is an understandable desire and developing more female coaches needs to be a priority at every level.
An interesting comparison to make between Andonovski and Harvey is last season when they virtually swapped teams. With Harvey leaving Seattle for a potential U.S. job and FC Kansas City in the process of being eliminated, Andonovski replaced Harvey in with the Reign.
When Harvey did not get the expected job with the U.S., she took over at Utah, which was the FC Kansas City roster under another name. With a small window to make changes, both coaches made a couple moves but in the end, Andonovski took a Seattle team that had missed the playoffs under Harvey back to the post season. With amazing new support from owners, the former FC Kansas City roster (plus some new players), Harvey finished out of post season play again.
How to decide between them is the question that Markgraf (presumably) will have to answer but it seems like the players themselves have a clear favorite to take the team to an even higher level.
Having spoken with a few current and former players, they have all been in favor of Andonovski and have indicated that most of their peers are as well. That includes ones that have played for Andonovski and ones that have not but have wanted to be on his teams.
The best candidate to be the next U.S. Women’s National Team head coach is Vlatko Andonovski. He brings the most positives to the job. An excellent tactician, a great coach on the individual level, and he is a coach that has good relationships with his players but won’t let that interfere in making good decisions for the team.
Andonovski regularly out coached his opposite numbers when he was with FC Kansas City and continues that now with Reign FC. He has risen from obscurity to be the best coach in the National Women’s Soccer League in a few short years and will continue to grow and improve his expertise.
Let him do it for U.S. Soccer. There already isn’t a better choice and he will only get better.
Give Andonovski the reins and he will add another two stars (if not more) to the crest before he is done.