Andonovski to Seattle: What it means for the NWSL's coaching landscape
The coaching carousel we’ve speculated about since the end of the 2017 National Women’s Soccer League season is about to start turning, with the only coach to win two league titles becoming the first to step off.
According to sources, Vlatko Andonovski, head coach of 2014 and 2015 NWSL champions FC Kansas City, has been hired by the Seattle Reign to replace Laura Harvey, who has been with the club since its inaugural 2013 season. Harvey, still connected with the England women’s national team job, is expected to take on an increased role with U.S. Soccer, where she has recently served as head coach of the Under-23 women’s national team.
Seattle had been interviewing coaching candidates since the end of the NWSL season in anticipation of Harvey’s departure, sources tell FourFourTwo. The club identified Andonovski as its preferred successor early in the process, but had to compete with the Houston Dash for the coach’s signature. By early November, Seattle owner Bill Predmore was able to secure Andonovski’s commitment, with the move expected to be formally announced later this week.
Andonovski is the only coach in Kansas City history, but he was out of contract at the end of the 2017 season. Amid uncertainty about the Blues’ future ownership and location, the 41-year-old leaves Kansas City to join the club he twice defeated to claim his two NWSL titles.
The move has huge implications not only for the benches in Kansas City and Seattle but also for player and coach movement across the NWSL. Its ripple effects, in the broadest picture possible, could also impact U.S. women’s soccer at large.
What it means for … Andonovski
Throughout the young offseason, it’s become clear that Andonovski’s acclaim extends beyond the NWSL bubble. Contact between USL teams and the former Blues boss had been made, and a move into the men’s game emerged as a possibility. The chance to join an MLS-looking team, whether by affiliation or through expansion intent, was a significant lure.
Instead, Andonovski has chosen to stay in the women’s game. In the process, he moves from the league’s most precarious ownership situation to one of its best. Seattle, as a club and a market, has a series of unique, looming challenges, but in Bill Predmore, the Reign has an owner that’s dedicated to meeting them. Predmore’s support received glowing reviews from Harvey as the Reign sought her replacement.
For Andonovski, the move west means switching from a place where he was cobbling together squads to an environment that’s able to draw players like Kim Little, Manon Melis, Nahomi Kawasumi and Rumi Utsugi. It’s a place that’s been able to retain Jessica Fishlock, who will undoubtedly remain a cornerstone of Andonovski’s teams, as well as engender a fierce loyalty from Megan Rapinoe.
Ultimately, that environment won out over Houston’s, as well as the other teams hoping to lure the FCKC boss. The top-down issues that defined Andonovski’s last seasons in Kansas City are unlikely to surface in Seattle.
What it means for … Seattle
Andonovski not only gives the Reign a chance to seamlessly transition from Harvey, a franchise-defining presence, but it gives the team a chance to move forward. Though stylistically, Andonovski and Harvey may be the two most similar coaches in the NWSL, a new view on the team’s tactics could help break Seattle’s two-year playoff slump.
Reign near a crossroads
That stretch has seen a team that won consecutive NWSL Shields slip to successive fifth-place finishes. Still seen as having an enviable core of talent, Seattle’s regular-season failures have prompted questions about Harvey’s tactics. Would a more varied attacking approach have helped in 2016? And would less ambition in pressing, and more protection of the defense, have put Seattle in the playoffs in 2017?
Andonovski’s philosophies adhere to many of the same approaches Harvey’s employed, but his teams have been less risky in their pressing and more organized at the back. If he can bring a defense that includes Lauren Barnes, Rachel Corsie and Rebekah Stott back to its pre-2017 levels, Seattle could compete near the top of the standings.
In an even bigger picture, capturing Andonovski and keeping him from Houston is another coup for Predmore. Just as he did in 2013, when he lured Harvey from Arsenal, Predmore’s proved to be a shrewd and ambitious player in the women’s game.
His ability to convince significant talent of his vision in Seattle remains one of the Reign’s competitive advantages. That he got a coveted coach to forgo potential MLS resources, with a possible track to an MLS job, speaks to the power of Predmore.