When he joined FC Kansas City in 2013 as the club’s head coach, Vlatko Andonovski had established some local notoriety but was a virtual unknown name in the U.S. soccer scene. Then just 37 years old, Andonovski had moved up the ranks as coach of the Kansas City Comets, an indoor soccer team, before stepping into a brand new role on a brand new team in a brand new league.
It was a risk for both club and coach — and one that paid off immensely. Andonovski went on to build a squad from the ground up that won back-to-back championships in 2014 and 2015 and posted a record of 47 wins, 37 losses, and 25 draws. He now moves onto his next adventure as head coach of Seattle Reign FC, another club with a rich history of winning.
For fans and those of us in the media, it is both shocking and strangely prophetic that the person who constructed a team that prevented Seattle from winning two NWSL titles is now becoming their leader as they try to earn one of their own.
While the news continues to seep into our consciousness, Sounder at Heart had the opportunity to connect with Andonovski about the move to Seattle and his hopes for the club. What he shared was a deep appreciation for the legacy built by Laura Harvey and a desire to become known not as the man who broke fans’ hearts, but a conductor that inspires a new symphony of soccer in Seattle.
“I came to Seattle to meet with Bill very open minded. I didn't know if this was the right place or not. I just said, ‘I'm going to listen to Bill and then go home and talk to my family and make a decision,’” Andonovski shared.
Players and staff have always been quick to point to Bill and Teresa Predmore as supportive owners who take an active role in shaping a positive, professional environment for the team, and it was evident that Bill’s charm and vision played a critical role in getting the Macedonian-born coach to Seattle — presenting a pitch so strong it was virtually impossible to turn the job down.
As the two started talking, Andonovski said, things began to click immediately. “It was almost like he was reading my mind. I was very excited, and halfway through the conversation that we had, I was just thinking to myself, I want to be here. I feel like this is the place where I want to be with a person like Bill, and an organization like the Seattle Reign, that will give the players the best chance and the coaches the best chance to be successful.”
Building Talent, Respecting Individuals
While Andonovski won’t be taking on the additional title of general manager — one Laura Harvey used to make a series of blockbuster trades — he expressed interest in further shaping the Seattle Reign Academy as he steps in as executive director.
“I have lots of experience in youth soccer in every level and every position, so I feel like my experience and expertise will help me guide the Academy and work together with all the coaches and directors involved in the Academy.”
A relentless student of the game, Andonovski has been involved with many youth teams and clubs in the Kansas City area and served as technical director of the FC Kansas City Juniors until taking the Reign FC coaching role.
Beyond the academy system, Andonovski also gained a reputation as someone who develops young players and helps them become important contributors to their team. “In my time in Kansas City, I did devote a lot of time to the young players. I think that the players that we bring on the squad are good players, so sooner or later they will become good starters in the league.”
For Andonovski, every piece of the puzzle is important, and he knows every player has a unique role on the team. He sees his role as one of a facilitator, or conductor, who is striving to create an environment where players have both creative freedom and clear guidance on how they can improve their game to be the best versions of themselves.
“We always have a plan for every individual, whether they're starters or not, or whether they're on the national team. We have individual plans and we try to work very close with the players on and off the field, whether it's the technical and tactical aspect of the game, or even physical, or mental and emotional. So it is important for us that we develop every aspect of the game, not just for the young players, but for all the players on the team.”
Coaching Style: Past and Present
When the announcement of the Reign FC coaching shakeup came on Tuesday, both Harvey and Predmore were quick to praise Andonovski and point to the similarities in their coaching styles. Vlatko was grateful for the comparison — especially when it comes to constructing a roster that fits together seamlessly.
“I think that my philosophy is very similar to Laura's in terms of building a team. I think that we both want to build a team as being a family. We want to create a good family environment, and personally, I base everything on five principles: respect, hard work, dedication, trust, and discipline. From what I heard from Bill, and from knowing Laura and talking to her, that's basically how they built the Seattle Reign from ground up.”
Earlier this year, Andonovski spoke with Richard Farley at FourFourTwo and went even deeper on his vision for building a squad that works toward a collective vision. “In our club, we divide the players into warriors and artists. Usually we have one artist, or two artists on the team. We, as warriors, are willing to adapt around the artist. We know the artist will change the game with one idea. We are willing to do whatever it takes to help the artist be at her best.”
For many years, that artist was Lauren Holiday, who Andonovski developed into becoming one of the best Number 10s in the world. Seattle had one of their own world-class talents during that time: Kim Little, an artist who dictated Reign FC’s style and made the whole game look effortless.
Andonovski’s comments help paint another picture of how both he and Harvey approach the game. During her time at Reign FC, Harvey often talked about wanting to play soccer the “right way.” She established a style of play that produced some of the most beautiful soccer ever seen in Seattle. It focused on occupying space and movement on and off the ball. Andonovski approaches the game in much the same way.
The on-the-field product Andonovski built at FC Kansas City certainly had its own unique flair, but there were many similarities to Reign FC. “We always tried to outplay the opponents and play a beautiful game,” the former FCKC coach said. Games between the two clubs were often 1-0 affairs that were akin to a chess match — it took one moment of brilliance on either side to seal a victory.
Andonovski has no desire to play the game in any other way, but did add, “We're all different. So, if I can add a small touch to everything that Laura built and make a slight difference, I would be happy to do it.”
The Future of Reign FC
Andonovski now has more than one month until the 2018 NWSL College Draft, where Seattle has just one fourth-round pick, and more than three months before preseason begins. That leaves him plenty of time to meet with the Reign FC players and staff and explore how he can shape the future of this club.
While there is still a lot of listening and learning in the coming months for Andonovski, he was notably transparent when asked about what holes he may be hoping to fill.
“I think that the roster is a fairly strong roster, but definitely something that needs wide improvements. And if I have to narrow it down right now at this moment, I would say that I would gladly add a player in every line — one defender, one midfielder, and one forward. Once I do a little closer analysis, I will know exactly what type of defender we're going to need, and what type of midfielder, and what type of forward.”
Will any of those additions come from his former roster in Kansas City, where players spoke highly of their coach? Andonovski certainly left the door open. “You know, there are definitely players that any coach in the league, or in the world, would like to have. I mean, you have players like Becky Sauerbrunn, Desiree Scott, Shea Groom, and Brittany [Taylor], just to name some of them. But obviously, they're all under contract with Kansas City. We're probably going to try to bring some of them in Seattle if they're willing to make the move. But if not, we're going to look somewhere else.”
Message to Seattle
Andonovski was quick to express his gratitude for this new chapter, and laughed when talking about how nice it will be to play with this Reign squad rather than against it.
“Every time I played the Reign, I had mixed feelings. I was so excited, I knew it was going to be a good game. I knew it was going to be an exciting game, a beautiful game. It was going to be a good show for the fans. But at the same time, I knew it was not going to be an easy game for us.”
In addition to being on the other side of worrying about “the runs that Jessica Fishlock makes, and the crosses that Nahomi delivers,” Andonovski is excited to come to a city that loves and embraces soccer.
“I'm very thankful for the opportunity and very excited to come into a city that is a great soccer city. I mean, what the Reign and Sounders have done there, and obviously all the success with this current form the Sounders are in, I feel like it will make the whole experience even better.”
The news that Laura Harvey coached her last game with Reign FC was a shocking one for all. Andonovski certainly has big shoes to fill, but if his past success and current vision are any indication, he is well poised to drive this club forward — ideally toward an NWSL title. He certainly has some experience with those.