MELBOURNE, Australia — Vlatko Andonovski wasn't thinking about his job as he navigated the messy emotions of World Cup heartbreak. But he almost certainly lost it here at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium on Sunday, when the U.S. women's national team lost on penalties to Sweden.
After a 2021 Olympic bronze, he entered the 2023 World Cup needing to meet sky-high expectations to remain USWNT head coach. He fell short of them in every possible way. The USWNT’s Round of 16 exit is the worst World Cup result in program history. Andonovski is the first coach to lead the team into multiple major tournaments and win none of them.
So he has likely coached his last USWNT game. He declined to speak about his future at an emotional post-match news conference. But his contract expires at the end of the calendar year, a U.S. Soccer Federation spokesman confirmed to Yahoo Sports. He will almost surely either step down or be fired before then.
The more relevant questions are: Who else will go? And who will replace Andonovski?
Those decisions are in the hands of U.S. Soccer sporting director Matt Crocker, the spokesman said. USWNT general manager Kate Markgraf will take part in a post-World Cup review process, but her future also could be up in the air.
Markgraf’s GM role was always murky. Her performance, therefore, is very difficult to assess from afar. Crocker will do that from within, and decide whether to retain Markgraf or replace her — or redesign the USWNT’s sporting structure.
His most important task, though, will be to lead the coaching search. And if his first search at U.S. Soccer is any indication, it will be a thorough one. After rehiring Gregg Berhalter as U.S. men’s national team boss in June, Crocker and the federation boasted about “multifaceted evaluation mechanisms” and “cutting-edge hiring methods” within a “rigorous process.”
There were psychometric tests, cross-industry tools used to assess everything from personality to intelligence. There were “abstract reasoning tests,” Crocker said, and ones that evaluated “logical thinking.” There were “tests where candidates had the opportunity to prepare for certain elements around strategy,” Crocker added, and “certain tests where they just literally had to deliver under pressure at a moment in time.”
It all culminated over 10 intensive hours in a Manhattan conference center, and it was “grueling,” Berhalter said.
Presumably, the USWNT process will be similar.
There is some urgency — because the Paris Olympics are less than 12 months away — but finding the right person for the job is paramount. Crocker will likely tab an interim coach — perhaps a youth national team coach, or a current USWNT assistant — to take charge of the team in September, for two friendlies against South Africa (Sept. 21 and 24). The new coach could begin in October or November.
The tricky part will be identifying that right person. Because there is no obvious successor.
There is one woman head-and-shoulders above her international coaching peers, Sarina Wiegman. But she’s likely unavailable, because she’s currently in a similarly attractive job, with a contract to coach England through 2025. (The English FA reportedly wanted to extend that contract; but last summer, Wiegman denied a report that she’d signed an extension through 2027.)
Beyond Wiegman, the field of candidates is messy. There is Laura Harvey, who currently helms the National Women’s Soccer League’s OL Reign, and who has U.S. national team experience — with the Under-20s and Under-23s, and as a temporary Andonovski assistant with the senior team in 2020 and 2021. Harvey was also a USWNT candidate back in 2019, after Jill Ellis retired, but Andonovski got the job ahead of her.
Elsewhere in the NWSL, there is San Diego Wave coach Casey Stoney, a former England national team captain and former Manchester United manager.
In the English Women’s Super League, there are Chelsea’s Emma Hayes and Arsenal’s Jonas Eidvall, both highly respected and successful.
On the international scene, there is Jamaica’s Lorne Donaldson — whose full-time job is at a youth club in Colorado that produced USWNT stars Mal Swanson and Sophia Smith. There is South Africa’s Desiree Ellis. There are several others at this 2023 World Cup who are worthy of consideration.
In the American college ranks, UCLA’s Margueritte Aozasa is a rising star in the profession. She led the Bruins to a national title in her very first season after several years (and two national championships) as an assistant at Stanford. She should get a call from Crocker, but likely isn’t quite experienced enough to get the USWNT job — yet.
Then there is Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak, a former USWNT player with 112 caps to her name who has had success over the past 10 years as the head coach at the University of Central Florida. She has also been a part-time USWNT assistant coach under Andonovski since January 2022. (It’s unclear if associations with the current U.S. staff would be viewed as a positive or negative.)
There are also endless possibilities outside the box, including in men’s soccer. How about Jesse Marsch? Heck, how about Pep Guardiola?
Both would be long shots for a variety of reasons, of course. But the point is that the search’s scope should be broad, and money shouldn’t be a factor. There were supposedly no financial limitations on the USMNT process; so there shouldn’t be limitaxtions here. Berhalter’s last USMNT contract paid him a base salary of over $1.3 million; Andonovski’s contract paid him around $400,000 annually. U.S. Soccer is likely prepared to go well beyond Andonovski’s current number to lure the candidate of its choice.
And unlike the USMNT, the USWNT job is one of the most attractive in women’s soccer.
So Crocker should have his pick. Perhaps Wiegman is off the table, but his task should be to hire, at worst, the second-best coach in the sport.