Vlatko Andonovski steps down as USWNT head coach

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 06: United States head coach Vlatko Andonovski along the sidelines prior to the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Round of 16 match between Sweden and the United States at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium on August 06, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robin Alam/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)
An early exit from the 2023 Women's World Cup has cost Vlatko Andonovski his job as head coach of the U.S. women's national team. (Photo by Robin Alam/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Vlatko Andonovski has stepped down as head coach of the U.S. women’s national team, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced Thursday. Andonovski and U.S. Soccer agreed to part ways less than two weeks after a Round of 16 loss to Sweden condemned his team to the worst World Cup result in program history.

With a post-World Cup review ongoing, U.S. Soccer sporting director Matt Crocker tabbed assistant coach Twila Kilgore to lead the USWNT on an interim basis. Kilgore will take charge of two September friendlies against South Africa, and perhaps two games in October as well.

Crocker, meanwhile, will lead the search for a new permanent coach with the Paris Olympics less than 12 months away.

Andonovski succeeded Jill Ellis in the fall of 2019, and took over a team fresh off back-to-back World Cup titles. Over the subsequent four years, he became the first USWNT coach to enter multiple major tournaments and win none of them.

In many ways, initially, he picked up right where Ellis left off, implementing new ideas but riding with veteran players. Some of those players endorsed him during the coaching search, and gushed about his early influence on the team. They rolled through his first year-and-a-half on the job, winning uninterrupted.

But warning signs appeared in the spring of 2021, and intensified at the Tokyo Olympics that summer. A 3-0 loss to Sweden in the Olympic opener was startling. And in retrospect, Andonovski’s USWNT never really recovered.

The runaway pre-tournament favorites settled for bronze in Tokyo. Andonovski then attempted to engineer an overdue changing of the guard. But as he welcomed young stars like Sophia Smith, and helped reinvigorate others like Mallory Swanson, he never quite melded them into a humming unit. They lost three consecutive games last fall for the first time in three decades. Even in wins, they underwhelmed, and often looked tactically deficient.

Injuries and developmental defects were confounding factors. But Andonovski entered the 2023 World Cup as a central concern to many committed fans. He’d later say that he never felt like he was coaching to save his job, but the assumption was that he’d lose it if he fell short of the World Cup final.

And over the past few weeks, he fell way short.

No U.S. team had ever finished worse than third at the Women’s World Cup; his finished around 11th.

No U.S. team had ever scored fewer than 12 goals at a Women’s World Cup; his bagged only four.

Andonovski is, by all accounts, a good man whom players spoke highly of. He centered those players at his post-match news conference last Sunday, with the remnants of emotion staining his face.

“We didn't expect to go out the way we did,” he said. “It is emotional. It is hard. So, I haven't really had a chance to think about me. I don't even wanna think about me. ... I think it's selfish to think about me, my future, what I'm gonna do, when we have 20-year-old players going through this situation. So, I wanna be there for them. I love them, I love them all. And, they're my players, but they're my friends.”

But this, as they say, is a business. Andonovski’s contract ran through the end of the calendar year, a U.S. Soccer spokesman confirmed to Yahoo Sports. There was virtually zero chance that it would be renewed. So, with the end in sight, Andonovski and U.S. Soccer agreed to part ways four months early.

Crocker is now leading a standard post-tournament review. That review could also determine the fate of Andonovski's assistants — Kilgore, Milan Ivanovic (Andonovski's longtime No. 2), Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak and Philip Poole — and USWNT general manager Kate Markgraf.

Next, Crocker will dive into the head 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.”

His USWNT process will presumably be similar.

There is some urgency, but finding the right person for the job will be paramount. One source suggested that the interim coach could take charge of October friendlies, and perhaps even the Nov. 27-Dec. 6 international window as well. The new coach will almost certainly be in place by the end of the calendar year.