Why NWSL's winningest coach is eyeing new challenges and greener pastures
It's a resume that explains why, beginning earlier this summer, sources spoke to FourFourTwo USA about Andonovski being a potential target for USL teams. Now, multiple USL clubs appear set to seek interviews with Andonovski once FCKC's season is over.
That's the competition Houston Dash president Chris Canetti may be facing, should he pursue the FCKC boss. It’s a pursuit that seems a logical step for a franchise that, ultimately, didn't succeed with its first coaching hire.
Although luring Randy Waldrum from Notre Dame was a coup before the Dash commenced play in 2014, the longtime Fighting Irish boss saw his promising professional start quickly wane. After a fifth-place finish in 2015, the Dash descended to eighth place last year, with an uneven start to the 2017 season costing him his job.
In the wake of communication issues with the playing squad under Waldrum, Houston hiring Andonovski would seem a perfect fit, even beyond the NWSL titles he helped engineer in 2014 and 2015. Andonovski's bond with his current team remains as strong as any coach’s in the NWSL, with perhaps only Seattle's Laura Harvey having a pro-player reputation to rival Andonovski’s.
While his dedication to developing his players has, perhaps, hurt his team, leaving him unwilling to give up on them in the face of other solutions, the loyalty he's engendered has helped maintain his players' commitment amid FCKC's woes.
The mere pursuit of a coach like Andonovski could prove a boon for Houston, which has faced increasing fan discontent throughout its existence. After seeing an attendance boost in 2015 after the Women's World Cup and the arrivals of U.S. women's national team members Carli Lloyd, Morgan Brian, Meghan Klingenberg and Whitney Engen, Houston has seen more empty seats at BBVA Compass Stadium, leaving the team in need to a reboot before its fifth season.
A recent decision to stage a rescheduled game outside of the Houston area — in Edinburg, home of the Rio Grande Valley FC Toros, the Dynamo's USL affiliate — was met with fan backlash questioning the front office’s decision-making and commitment.
If Andonovski chose to stay in women's soccer, the Dash would still be a very attractive option, with the team's MLS links plus the presence of Lloyd, Brazilian international Andressinha, England international Rachel Daly and U.S. international Jane Campbell highlighting a roster with some distinct talents.
Though the team's defense needs to be overhauled, Andonovski has established a track record of incorporating new pieces into standout defenses, with the conversion of former midfielder Yael Averbuch to central defense highlighting what he can do to adapt talent. With the drawing power Houston and its MLS connections could have for international talent, though, Andonovski may not have to be as creative with the Dash as he was in Kansas City.
Andonovski’s decision could also have major implications for other NWSL coaches. Currently, the league is seen as an entirely separate world, with few truly considering how coaching performance in the NWSL would translate to men’s circuits.
If Andonovski should prove successful in his transition, the accomplishments of other young NWSL coaches — Rory Dames, Laura Harvey, Mark Parsons, to name a few — would be cast in a different light. Instead of clubs merely admiring what those coaches do in women’s soccer, teams will start asking how their philosophies translate to the men’s world.
That scenario may no longer be a hypothetical, should Andonovski decide to leave the women's game. It's a decision he doesn't plan to entertain until FCKC's season is done. But if an opportunity to join an MLS-linked USL team, or one with expansion ambitions, arises, Houston may have no chance at the NWSL's only two-time title-winner.
Either way, FC Kansas City looks set for a fight. The stakes? The most indispensable part of its club.