May 19, 2024

USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski tuning out his critics: ‘I don’t read anything’

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Being the coach of the most successful national team in women’s soccer history comes with a lot of perks. 

The United States has a roster most nations could only dream of; several players who didn’t make the Americans’ 23-woman squad would star for other title hopefuls. 

The U.S. is both FIFA’s top-ranked team and the favorite, still, to win a fifth World Cup crown at the ongoing 2023 tournament in Australia and New Zealand.

The money is pretty good, too. USWNT boss Vlatko Andonovski is the second-highest paid manager in the women’s game, behind England’s Sarina Wiegman. Should his squad claim a historic third straight World Cup title this summer Down Under, Andonovski’s bonus will likely make him No. 1.

The flip side of all of that is the pressure. 

Fans scrutinize every roster decision, every lineup, every sub. Supporters expect nothing less than victory at every major competition. 

The same goes for U.S. Soccer, Andonovski’s employer. If the USWNT becomes the latest contender to suffer a stunning upset when it takes on Portugal on Tuesday (coverage begins at 1 a.m. ET, with kickoff at 3 a.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app), he’ll quickly be out of a job.

How is the 46-year-old Andonovski, now in his fourth year at the U.S. helm, handling what could be an almost unbearable level of stress on the eve of the most important match of his entire career? By embracing it.

Should USWNT fans have faith in Vlatko Andonovski getting it right against Portugal?

Should USWNT fans have faith in Vlatko Andonovski getting it right against Portugal?

“The moment I sat in this chair in 2019 is when the pressure started,” Andonovski told reporters here during Monday’s pre-match press conference. “It’s not like this is something new or something that I wasn’t aware of. I knew this is how it’s going to be, and I know what the expectations are. 

“The only thing that changed from 2019 to now is actually I just learned how to turn the pressure into excitement.”

That’s easy to say, of course. But if Andonovski was putting on a front — if he’s secretly a nervous wreck when he tucks himself into his bed at the USWNT’s five-star hotel near Auckland’s picturesque harbor — the golden trophy he deserves to win most is an Oscar.

It makes sense in some ways that Andonovski would be relaxed. He’s the envy of his 31 World Cup peers, after all — even Wiegman. Despite being without injured projected starters Catarina Macario, Sam Mewis, Becky Sauerbrunn and Mallory Swanson, the Americans’ unparalleled depth has left them better positioned to compete for the hardware than England, which also came into the tournament down four key members of the side that won the European Championship a year ago.

Did the USWNT, Vlatko Andonovski learn from the Netherlands draw?

Did the USWNT, Vlatko Andonovski learn from the Netherlands draw?

Off the field, his players have every advantage, too. The U.S.’s base camp, training fields and army of support staff are all as world-class as the athletes themselves.

“We feel so prepared,” Andonovski said. “That in some ways helps us with dealing with pressure. I mean, we were prepared coming into the World Cup. We’re prepared going into every game and for different scenarios, different moments. That’s all we can do.”

Almost, anyway. Ever since they arrived in New Zealand’s biggest city exactly three weeks ago, the players have spoken often about the protection their impenetrable World Cup “bubble” affords them. Andonovski also lives inside it.

“I don’t have any social media,” he said.  “I don’t read anything.”

That’s good. With the eyeballs of millions of armchair analysts back home obsessing over every detail imaginable, the coach has been a lightning rod of online criticism through the Americans’ first two World Cup games.

Why is 38-year-old Megan Rapinoe even on this roster? (She can contribute off the bench and her vast experience is invaluable on a team with 14 World Cup rookies.) Why didn’t Rose Lavelle start against Vietnam or the Netherlands? (After a long injury layoff, Lavelle is probably a better second-half weapon until she’s fully fit.) Why hasn’t Andonovski used more subs? (He wanted to let his starters build cohesion by giving them every possible minute together.)

USWNT’s players get “The Call” from Vlatko Andonovski for the FIFA Women’s World Cup

USWNT's players get "The Call" from Vlatko Andonovski for the FIFA Women's World Cup

Few if any of those quibbles — legitimate or otherwise — have breached the coach’s radar. 

“What’s most important is what’s happening within our team,” he said. “I think everything else is outside noise and isn’t going to help.

“Our press officer is my main source of information,” Andonovski said. “He has been very good to me in selecting the things that I need to know and selecting things that I don’t need to know. Because I’m pretty sure that if I knew everything outside of our bubble, I wouldn’t be smiling right now.

“That’s how I deal with pressure.”

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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