Analysis

NWSL coaching carousel set to crank up? Sundhage, Harvey, Andonovski and others ponder moves

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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Sky Blue is known as one of the NWSL’s most limited clubs, one that is unlikely to be a serious contender for the likes of a Pia Sundhage.

When it last had to replace a coach two years ago, it didn’t do so until three months after Jim Gabarra’s departure, becoming the final NWSL team to fill its coaching position that offseason. When it finally did so, it chose somebody from within – somebody who also had no head coaching experience.

Since 2016, though, the landscape has changed with Sky Blue, largely because of its enviable collection of young talent. A manager joining back then was left to forge the team’s future; now, the future is here. A young coach looking to make a name for themselves could do worse than join a team with Sam Kerr, Kelley O’Hara, Raquel Rodriguez, Mandy Freeman and Kailen Sheridan.

Houston’s interim coach, Omar Morales, has been loosely linked with the job, one that would be a perfect transition to further his advancement into the professional game. But as with the Dash, Sky Blue may need to make the right hire to keep its talent on board. The sudden departure of Holly has left a questioning locker room in search of solutions.

Seattle bracing for Harvey’s departure

ISI Photos-Daniel Bartel

ISI Photos-Daniel Bartel

It’s unclear whether Laura Harvey has coached her last game for Seattle, but it’s a real possibility, one for which the Reign is planning. Expect preliminary contact with potential replacements to begin soon, with the club doing its due diligence to plan for the worst.

Seattle’s stature exists somewhere between Houston and Sky Blue, but for some candidates, it may actually be the more attractive job. While Houston has the lure of a nice stadium, MLS backing, and the presumed drawing power of both, the surface details favor Seattle, where owner Bill Predmore’s support has helped bridge the gap. To some, the Reign’s strengths win out in every other area. Predmore is a very hands-on owner, but he’s also a good one.

For a coaching looking to win now, it’s probably the better landing spot. Seattle has missed the playoffs two years in a row, but a slightly different on-field approach may solve some of those problems. Harvey’s approach is well-known across the league, and to the extent she varies it, she always adheres to a set of core stylistic principles. Bringing in a new approach risks undermining the good Harvey’s instilled, but it may also instill a level of flexibility that could reclaim a playoff spot.

More than anything, though, Seattle has talent – more than other teams with job opening will have – enough to have many wondering why it has missed the playoffs in successive seasons. Whoever takes up the task will have the luxury of Megan Rapinoe, Nahomi Kawasumi, Rumi Utsugi, potentially Lydia Williams, and one of the NWSL’s best leaders, Jessica Fishlock.

Support pieces like Beverly Yanez, Lauren Barnes, Rachel Corsie and Rebekah Stott provide an enviable baseline, leaving the 2018 postseason a legitimate goal. Harvey’s future could heavily influence whether some of the veterans stay, but even with a few departures, the Reign’s cupboard will be far from bare.

It’s not a “big” club per se, but it would be a worthy landing spot for Andonovski or Sundhage, and for a team that was able to lure Harvey from Arsenal five years ago, those aren’t improbable targets. And, for a team that’s always had a big-time coach, we should expect nothing less than an ambitious search.

And then there was Kansas City

ISI Photos-Tony Quinn

ISI Photos-Tony Quinn

The possibility Andonovski could move is a reminder: FC Kansas City’s future is still up in the air. While a new ownership group outside of the Kansas City area has been lined up – one that would, coincidentally, see the team in a second, separate set of Minnesota-based hands in two years – the possibility of MLS’ Sporting KC taking over remains.

In fact, SKC becoming the NWSL’s fourth MLS-based ownership group seems far more likely today than when we first reported it a month ago.

If Sporting takes over FCKC, it’s almost guaranteed Andonovski stays with the team. He has strong links to the area, huge loyalty to his team and lingering curiosity about what his core can do if it gets a healthy Amy Rodriguez back. With Sporting’s backing, he can establish the type of top-to-bottom program that might offset the lure of a USL job or another market.

If Sporting doesn’t take over, though, and a Minneapolis-based team has to find a new coach, it’s unclear what direction the team would go. It’s possible that Andonovski is convinced to stay, but in all likelihood, we have a new team with no track record of coaching hires diving into an increasingly competitive market.

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