Vlatko Andonovski “It was a very valuable experience.” (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

The busiest person at the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup earlier this summer?

It just might have been U.S. women’s national team head coach Vlatko Andonovski.

True, he did not run one team practice and he did not coach a minute.

But having the eight of the nine NWSL teams playing in bubble might have made Andonovski feel like a kid locked in that proverbial candy store.

He could watch and scout any player he needed at the venues in Herriman and Sandy, Utah.

And Andonovski did just that as he makes plans for the present and future of the USWNT.

He said he watched about 25 games and about 50-60 training sessions during his 35-day in the bubble.

“It was a very valuable experience,” he said during a press conference as he was honored as Park University’s Distinguished Alumnus Award Aug. 27. “To watch all the games live, that was one thing, but another thing that was very valuable for us, me personally, and the whole coaching staff that was there with me. We were able to attend lots of practices. Just to put a parallel between the trainings and games to see how the players are implementing the ideas of coaches, how coachable they are, how they’re taking and processing some of those ideas was very valuable for us in the evaluating process.”

Andonovski said that he and his staff broke the players into three groups.

“One group of players were already on the national team, so we didn’t evaluate them. We analyzed them and then we evaluated the players we had on the list. It was a certain group of players we feel had the potential to be on the national team.”

That was the second group.

“That was evaluated and then we had a group of players that was not on the national team or is not on the list, but its a surprise of the tournament and that’s the players we were looking at as well,” he continued. That’s why with players like Becky Sauerbrunn or Megan Rapinoe, Allie Long and all those players we didn’t necessarily evaluate them.”

With all U.S. Soccer activities shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Andonovski hasn’t had to coach a game since the SheBelieves Cup in March. Like anyone else, he is anxious to get going ASAP, although when is out of his control. He and his staff will be ready to go full throttle when given the go-ahead.

“Lots of uncertainties,” he said. “We’re always preparing and always with the mindset that we’re starting on Monday. If we start on Monday, are we ready for it? So, that’s how the technical staff operates, that’s how the sporting staff operates. We’re always ready, whether it’s from the logistical standpoint or technical standpoint, We’re ready for the next step.”

If there was no pandemic, the U.S. would have competed at the Tokyo Olympics in July and August.

When someone at the press conference broached that subject, Andonovski replied, “Thank you for reminding me that I was supposed to return from Japan. Obviously a little unfortunate with everything that happened around the world. We’re not happy, nobody’s happy with that, but the mindset for us this summer was creativity. Just being creative and making things happen in a different way.”

That included the USWNT players.

“They are disappointed, but they are very well aware of the fact that this is something that we cannot control, he said. “And when I say disappointed, it[s because they are athletes. They are soccer players. They want to be on the field, I mean, I want to be on the field and coach, myself, but we understand that the safety and health of the players and staff and everybody around is more important than the game itself.”

During his seven years guiding FC Kansas City and the Seattle Reign in the NWSL, Andonovski directed his squads to five playoff appearances and two National Women’s Soccer League titles and was named coach of the year twice. He also coached the Missouri Comets to the Major Indoor Soccer League championship in 2013-14 and was selected MASL coach of the year in 2014-15. Andonovski was named the ninth head coach in USWNT history in October of 2019.

Yes, it is rare for any coach to direct men’s and women’s pro teams in the same city.

Andonovski said he was humbled to be honored by Park University. He earned a management degree at the school, which has had a pipeline through the years to help feed the indoor teams of the Missouri and Kansas City Comets (Major Arena Soccer League).

He thanked men’s soccer coach Efrem Shimlis and athletic director Claude English.

“I’ll just start off and say how honored and humbled I am to be here today to receive the Distinguished Alumnus Award,” the USWNT coach said. “I had a great experience with Park for so many years and am so thankful for the opportunity that Park University provided for me, for my family, my wife is a Park University graduate as well. And I was able to accumulate lots of knowledge, lots of experience. I was able to create some relationships with fellow students, with faculty and staff that will last for the rest of the life. I’m very thankful for all the opportunities.”