Following the earliest exit from a women’s World Cup in U.S. history, Vlatko Andonovski’s tenure as the team’s manager has seemingly run its course.
Yes, Andonovski is unbeaten as a World Cup coach, but the Americans won just one of four games in this tournament, the other three ending in draws with the U.S. going scoreless over the final 238 minutes. And yes, Andonovski was playing with a short deck after losing four starters — midfielders Catarino Macario and Sam Mewis, forward Mallory Swanson and defender Becky Sauerbrunn — to injury. But the replacements he chose were, for the most part, ineffective, as was his coaching.
2023 Women’s World Cup coverage
And with the U.S. exiting the World Cup in the round of 16 two years after losing twice and settling for bronze in the Tokyo Olympics, Andonovski, is the only U.S. manager to coach in both major tournaments without winning at least one of them. He also had the bad luck to follow Jill Ellis, the winningest coach in U.S. history and just the second manager, male or female, to win consecutive World Cups.
But changing coaches isn’t as simple as firing one person and hiring another. There are contracts and timing issues to deal with. Andonovski’s deal with U.S. Soccer runs through the end of the year, for example, which means he would have to be bought out. And the team has two games scheduled next month as part of its build-up for the 2024 Paris Olympics, which are less than a year away.
Is a year enough time to get a new coach up to speed?
The biggest issue, however, is will the new coach be better than the old one? Andonovski lost just five of 65 matches, winning 51 times. Among U.S. managers to coach at least 60 games, no one lost fewer times.
U.S. Soccer could announce a decision on Andonovski’s future and, if necessary, on a replacement as early as next week. Here’s a shortlist of names that should be part of that discussion:
Sarina Wiegman and Laura Harvey
The smart money is on Wiegman … but it will also have to be for a lot of money.
The current manager of England’s national team, Wiegman makes $510,000 a year on a contract that runs through 2025. That’s reportedly the highest salary in women’s soccer and $110,000 more than U.S. Soccer is paying Andonovski. But Wiegman, 53, is worth breaking the bank for.
She has lost just 12 times in 108 games with the Netherlands and England, taking the Dutch to the final of the 2019 World Cup and the Netherlands and England to consecutive European Championships. The continental titles were the first for both countries and she has England in the quarterfinals of this summer’s World Cup.
Wiegman, who had 99 caps as a midfielder and defender with the Netherlands, has international experience as both a player and coach and an unmatched record of success — she’s the only manager to win back-to-back Euros with different countries — and is young enough to warrant the considerable investment it would take to get her out of her England deal and into the U.S. job.
She also has a background in U.S. soccer, having won an NCAA title as a player at North Carolina under Anson Dorrance and alongside Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly.
But if the U.S. can’t get Wiegman, the only female coach in the World Cup quarterfinals, Harvey, the current coach of the OL Reign, is far from a consolation pick. She was the only other finalist for the job when Andonovski was hired in 2019 and she later served on his staff with the national team while also coaching the U-20s. In her native England, Harvey, 43, won six trophies in three seasons with Arsenal before coming to the NWSL, where she is a three-time coach of the year.
After coming so close in 2019, there’s a sense that Harvey deserves the job this time.
On the shortlist
Tony Gustavsson and Casey Stoney
Gustavsson worked as an assistant with the U.S. national team under both Pia Sundhage and Ellis before taking over the Australian program in 2020 and leading it to the World Cup quarterfinals this summer. A Swede, Gustavsson, who turns 50 next week, helped the U.S. to a gold medal in the 2012 Olympics and to two World Cup titles under Ellis in 2015 and 2019. In between, he took Tyreso FF to the UEFA women’s Champions League final in 2014. In the last two years with Australia, he’s won 12 of his last 14 games and has the team ranked 10th in the world.
That international experience as a manager is likely to loom large in the interview process since it was the one thing missing from Andonovski’s otherwise stellar resume.
Stoney, meanwhile, was a standout defender with Chelsea and Arsenal and captain of the English national team, for which she made 130 appearances, fifth-most all-time. And she’s been just as good as a manger, taking Manchester United to the FA women’s championship in 2018-19 before joining the San Diego Wave and becoming the first coach in NWSL history to take an expansion team to the playoffs.
Her age — she’s 41 — and NWSL experience, albeit brief, are pluses. And she’s likely to get a strong push from Ellis, the woman who hired her in San Diego.
Margueritte Aozasa, Jitka Klimkova and Jill Ellis
Aozasa, who took UCLA to an NCAA title in her first season as a coach last year, may be the longest of longshots, but she deserves to be in the conversation. As an assistant at Stanford, she helped the Cardinal to a 125-19-8 record, a plus-318 goal differential and two national titles. But just as important, she’s coached national players Catarina Macario, Sophia Smith, Naomi Girma, Andi Sullivan, Tierna Davidson and Alana Cook and played at Santa Clara with Sofia Huerta. For a team in transition and one that will be rebuilt around a young core, Aozasa’s familiarity with those players is a huge plus.
Her UCLA success and her track record as a youth coach won her a spot with the U-23 coaching staff last winter. Her age — Aozasa is in her early 30s — and her short time as a head coach are obstacles, as is her UCLA contract; she would have to be bought out of an extension signed last December that will take her through 2028.
The Czech-born Klimkova, 48, was an assistant with New Zealand before coming to the U.S. to manage the U-19 and U-20 teams from 2015 to 2019, with only limited success. Two years ago, she became the first woman manager of New Zealand’s national team, guiding the Ferns to their first World Cup win last month.
And finally there’s Ellis. She took the U.S. to consecutive World Cup titles, going 13-0-1, while overall her teams were 106-7-19. The only candidate already in the National Soccer Hall of Fame, Ellis turned down a chance to coach Australia in this World Cup and during a lengthy interview in June said her current job as president of the San Diego Wave is fulfilling and challenging in ways that coaching wasn’t.
Would she come back, if needed, at 56?
“National team coach, it’s not a lifetime position,” she said. “You’re lucky if you get back-to-back World Cups. My professional life should have a different lens. It shouldn’t be someone’s vision for 20 years. I don’t think that’s healthy.”
So while coming back might not make sense, notice she didn’t say no. But the question for Ellis, as for Wiegman, may have more to do with dollars than sense anyway.
As a friend of Ellis’ said when asked if she wanted the job, “Can they afford her?”
We may soon find out.