After leading his team to their second consecutive playoff appearance — all while dealing with a mounting list of injuries and international call-ups — Reign FC’s Vlatko Andonovski was named the 2019 NWSL Coach of the Year on Saturday.
The award — voted by players (40%), owners, GMs and coaches (20%), media members (20%) and fans (20%) — recognized the Reign FC coach for his ability to get the most out of the 31 different players that stepped onto the field this season and to change up tactics to match their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. The coach received 52.8% of the overall vote, with Paul Riley (27.1%) and Richie Burke (20.1%) comfortably behind him.
NWSL writers for SB Nation also voted Andonovski as Coach of the Year.
“Being named Coach of the Year is not a personal award for me,” Andonovski said in a Reign FC release. “It’s an award for the team, for the players that were fighting throughout the whole season. Players that were resilient, doing things that not many players would do. I’m very thankful for the award, but I firmly believe that it reflects more on the job that the players did.”
While Reign FC wasn’t the most dominant team this year, they managed a top-four finish in the NWSL regular season — seemingly against all odds. Entering the season, you could argue that Reign FC weren’t the best team, on paper, in the most competitive league in the world. On top of that, the team dealt with World Cup call-ups and injuries that, at times, had them missing 13 players.
That includes having players like Megan Rapinoe, Jess Fishlock, Rumi Utsugi, Michelle Betos and Lydia Williams out for most of the season due to long-term injuries — while also losing key players like Darian Jenkins, Shea Groom and Megan Oyster at key times with short-term strains.
It wasn’t just about the team’s mentality and grit, however. Andonovski flipped through multiple lineups — in fact, the team only started the same lineup once the whole season — and was still able to get the most out of his players. He also focused on developing young players who perhaps were overlooked by other teams in the league.
One such player is Bethany Balcer, who is expected to be named Rookie of the Year after leading the team in scoring. The player, who came from the NAIA as a virtual unknown, praised Andonovski for the role he played in her success.
“My game has vastly improved under Vlatko,” Balcer said. “He’s instilled a confidence in me that has allowed me to play more freely. Coming in, it’s killintimidating, but the correction and care that Vlatko coaches with made it easier to settle in. I feel that my knowledge of the game has increased as well. No one knows the game like Vlatko. The way he dissects film and is able to implement tactics into a training session is incredible and it encourages me to watch film and learn more.”
Veterans like Rapinoe and Allie Long also praised Vlatko for his soccer smarts and tactics.
“He’s probably one of the most intelligent soccer brains that I’ve ever come across,” Long shared with SB Nation blog Once a Metro. “He is extremely prepared in every sense. He knows the game so well, he studies it, he puts so much time into it."
Rapinoe echoed Long’s comments on the Coffee & Valkyries podcast. She also praised the second-year Reign FC coach for the care he put into connecting with every player on the team and making them understand the importance of their role on the squad. In an interview with ESPN, she “cited his ability to connect with every level of the depth chart, to ‘meet them where they’re at.’”
Andonovski led Reign FC to a 10-6-8 record, a playoff berth where they pushed the league-leading Courage to extra time, and a regular season that saw them beat rivals Portland Thorns FC three times.
Andonovski was previously honored as the 2013 Coach of the Year with FC Kansas City following the league’s inaugural season.
It was a special season for a special coach, who Reign FC fans and players must now be prepared to say goodbye to. Well, goodbye and see you again. U.S. Soccer is holding a press conference on Monday to announce the new USWNT coach, and Andonovski is all but confirmed to be named as Jill Ellis’ successor.