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Meet The Kansas City Coach Hired To Win Olympic Gold For The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team

Greg Echlin
KCUR 89.3
Vlatko Andonovski prepares to answer questions from the media after his first match as the coach of the US Women's National Team.

The 2019 calendar for the U.S. women’s national soccer team is over, but for new coach Vlatko Andonovski, who has strong ties to Kansas City, the work is just beginning.

Andonovski’s coronation by U.S. Soccer as the new coach of the women’s team was held, Oct. 28, in New York. He won his first two matches with the team, beating Sweden 3-2 and Costa Rica 6-0. The international friendlies are helping prepare the team ahead of the Olympic qualifiers.

“I knew coming into it that it will be extremely important to win all the big tournaments,” said Andonovski, 43, during his introductory news conference. 

The way everyone sees it, that’s the way it should be. Andonovski is charged with the duties of keeping the U.S. team in its place as the world’s No. 1 ranked team. The U.S. Women won their fourth World Cup title this summer in Paris, half of the eight since the women’s World Cup started in 1991. 

Andonovski, who was born in Macedonia, first came to Kansas City in the early 2000s to play professional indoor soccer for the Kansas City Comets. 

A legacy of winning

Andonovski succeeds Jill Ellis, who stepped aside after the team completed its victory tour with matches around the country on the heels of winning this year’s World Cup over the summer in France. 

“What this team has done and what Jill (Ellis) has done is, I think, absolutely amazing,” said Andonovski. “Jill was hired to win one World Cup and she won two. It pushed the standards even higher.” 

Defender Becky Sauerbrunn played for Andonovski on FCKC, the National Women’s Soccer League team in Kanas City between 2013 and 2017. During that time, FCKC won the NWSL championships in both 2014 and 2015. Sauerbrunn, a starter on the U.S. national team, said she’s pleased with Andonovski’s appointment as the new national team coach.

Credit Greg Echlin / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Starting defender Becky Sauerbrunn played for Andonovski on the FCKC title teams in 2014 and 2015.

“I had him five years in Kansas City, so I know what he can do,” she said in Columbus last week. “I know how much I developed with him as my coach. I got really excited for the players I played with on the national team.”

Before last week’s match against Sweden, Sauerbrunn had a meeting with Andonovski, and she was reminded of her FCKC days of how he guided the team. to a championship level.

“He basically showed (me) on his computer that he had these work-ups on every single player, and he had all these characteristics and things he wanted them to work on and also things that make them special,” said Sauerbrunn, who now plays for the Utah Royals FC in the NWSL. “It’s just a little detail of how much he puts into it.” 

‘He’s a coach’

For the past two seasons in the NWSL, Andonovski was the head coach of Reign FC, which was in Seattle before moving to Tacoma, Washington, this year. During a break in the Reign’s schedule last summer, Andonovski returned home to Kansas City to coach one of his three kids at a soccer camp held at Rockhurst University.

Credit Greg Echlin / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
The card in the media tent with Andonovski's new title.

“He (Andonovski) loves to do it. He’s a coach,” said former FCKC technical director Huw Williams, who ran the camp at Rockhurst. Long before their FCKC days, Williams knew Andonovski from his youth coaching around the Kansas City area.

“We saw each other on the soccer fields and I actually hired him for my company (Global Sports International) and I really didn’t have a job for him. I just knew that he was a good guy and somebody that we needed,” said Williams. GSI is a locally-based youth sports managing company.

“On the first day, he came over and asked, ‘What am I doing?’  (I said,) ‘I don’t know. We’ll figure something out,’” said Williams. “Then he became our director of our winter league. That was our first connection together.”

They’ve remained close since. 

A surreal trip

When the rest of Andonovski’s family joined him in Columbus for his first match as the national team coach, it was Williams who drove them there. 

As the national team traveled to Jacksonville, Williams was back on the road to Kansas City for the return trip, which he called “surreal.” 

“They are very proud of their dad and husband for sure,” said Williams. “It’s stressful for B. (Biljana), his wife, in particular, because it changes their life, too.”

Olympic qualifying between North American and Caribbean nations begins Jan. 28 in Texas and concludes Feb. 9 in California. But while the U.S. team will be idle until then, Andonovski will be figuring out a way to maintain his squad’s top ranking over the long haul.

Greg Echlin is a freelance sports reporter for KCUR 89.3.

Sports have an economic and social impact on our community and, as a sports reporter, I go beyond the scores and statistics. I also bring the human element to the sports figures who have a hand in shaping the future of not only their respective teams but our town. Reach me at gregechlin@aol.com.
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