U.S. Soccer announced on Tuesday that two-time World Cup champion Jill Ellis will step down as head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team later this year. Ellis will remain with the USWNT during their five-game World Cup victory tour, which kicks off this weekend and concludes in October.
Ellis took over as head coach in 2014 after the departure of Tom Sermanni and led the U.S. to back-to-back World Cup titles while also overseeing the team’s quarterfinal loss in the 2016 Olympics. As of today, Ellis has an impressive coaching record of 102-7-18.
With Ellis’ departure, U.S. Soccer is focused on hiring the first-ever USWNT General Manager, who will then be in charge of hiring the next head coach. That coach will need to jump in right away, with the 2020 Olympics just around the corner.
On Wednesday, Washington Post reporter Steven Goff — along with other sources — shared that Kate Markgraf was the clear front-runner for the General Manager position. Markgraf was a longtime U.S. defender. She earned 201 caps and won a World Cup title with the 1999 USWNT team and an Olympic goal in 2004. She also featured in the 2003 and 2007 World Cups and played in the 2000 and 2008 Olympics.
Kate Markgraf, former #uswnt defender and current ESPN announcer, is the clear front-runner to become #uswnt general manager, multiple sources close to the USSF said. Some say it's a done deal, others said nothing official yet. Fed spox declined comment.— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) July 31, 2019
Markgraf ended her professional career in 2010, but never left soccer. She turned into a color analyst and play-by-play commentator for ESPN, working at the 2011 and 2015 World Cup, 2012 Olympics, and 2016 UEFA Euro. She also oversaw analysis for ESPN during this year’s World Cup, although coverage was owned by Fox.
If she is indeed the top choice for the GM role, Markgraf might have slipped up and revealed her preferred candidates for the position. Tuesday on ESPN — before news about her candidacy for GM became mainstream — Markgraf revealed that the likely USWNT coaching candidates are Laura Harvey, Paul Riley, Vlatko Andonovski, and Mark Krikorian (FSU coach).
Yes, you read that correctly. Vlatko. Andonovski.
U.S. Soccer would be silly not to consider the Reign FC coach, along with former Reign maestro Laura Harvey, who was actually hired by U.S. Soccer after the 2017 Reign FC season to serve on Ellis’ staff. It was the reason she departed the club, opening the door for Andonovski to come here. Unfortunately for Harvey, what seemed to be a done deal fell through at the last minute — leaving her without a coaching gig before the Utah Royals came calling. Could she be back in consideration again? It’s certainly possible, and according to Grant Wahl, U.S. Soccer appear to prefer a woman for the USWNT gig.
As for Andonovski, he is regarded as the best tactical coach in NWSL. Allie Long called him a genius in her post-match comments last weekend — high praise from someone who has played under a number of successful coaches. The current Reign FC coach got the best of Harvey in back-to-back NWSL Championship matches and has a reputation for developing talent and getting the most out of his players.
This season, despite having a slew of injuries that would cause any other team to crumble, the Reign are still one point away from a playoff spot with plenty of soccer left to play. Andonovski also knows the youth system well, having played a number of youth development roles while at Kansas City.
Why might he take the job? Andonovski could make the U.S. even more dominant than they are considered today and could play a significant role in setting the tone for how the U.S. develop players throughout their system and get them to buy into the U.S. style of play. He’d be the kind of coach that puts the best players on the field while also making sure they all fit together like a perfect puzzle, complementing one another’s strengths.
Why might he say no to the gig? Andonovski is at his best when he has the time — day in and day out — to get to know his players, give them individualized plans for growth, and produce gradual, game-by-game improvement that peaks during the playoffs, when the games matter most. He might not be enticed by the choppy nature of international matches and tournaments.
While it remains too early to tell how serious we should be taking Markgraf’s short list, if the final name ultimately ends up being Andonovski, it would be great for America and a bit sad for Reign FC fans. For now, we can only wait.