Vlatko Andonovski is the new U.S. women's national team coach, so, naturally, there are a number of questions to answer. There's curiosity over how he'll construct his roster; how he'll take what's already the world's best team and keep it on top; how he'll differ from the Jill Ellis regime and how he'll work with the talent that he inherits and the players he'll look to bring in. And that's just the start.
Andonovski sat down with SI's Grant Wahl on Tuesday, a day after taking the reins from Ellis, a two-time Women's World Cup champion who exited as the program's all-time winningest coach, to discuss much of that. Not every detail can be answered in full less than 24 hours after being named coach, of course, but the Andonovski Picture can start to be painted at the very least, ahead of his first camp and set of friendlies, which are rapidly approaching.
"The main challenge will be to stay ahead of everyone in the industry," Andonovski said. "We have a big target on our back now. It was big after winning the first World Cup [of the current run], it got bigger after winning the second World Cup. We're going to have to continue to get better, we're going to have to continue to evolve and we're going to have to stay ahead of everyone. We just cannot get complacent at any point in time."
Andonovski described his tactical approach as one that is "aggressive on both sides of the ball," saying he wants to "control the opponent on the ball or off the ball. We want to use possession as a tool to break down defenses."
He's not concerned with the scope of the job–and the scrutiny that comes along with it–not is he worried about not having coached internationally before. USWNT general manager Kate Markgraf indicated Monday that he was a deserving and unanimously approved candidate after a thorough vetting process.
"I feel like I will get up to speed quick by using some of [U.S. Soccer's vast] resources," Andonovski said. "The NWSL league, who I believe is one of the best leagues in the world, it's a great platform for coaches like myself to develop, just because they are around some of the best players in the world. ... I've had a chance to coach some of those players, I've had a chance to analyze in-depth some of those players, which will help me in this position.
One of those players is Megan Rapinoe, who played for Andonovski at Reign FC in Seattle and remains part of the present and future of the program despite turning 34 this summer.
I think I've had a great working relationship with Megan," Andonovski said. She's a true pro. Regardless of how old she is or where she is in her career, she wants to get better. She wants to keep improving. She doesn't want to stop."
In terms of team specifics, Andonovski confirmed that he'll be retaining goalkeeper coach Graeme Abel and high performance coach Dawn Scott while making two additions to his staff. Ellis's top assistant, Tony Gustavsson, had already returned to his native Sweden to coach GIF Sundsvall, leaving openings on the staff.
Andonovski must also figure out how to handle Alex Morgan, given that she is pregnant, due in April but still intends to fight for a place on the 18-player Olympic roster. She'll have every chance to do so–but that's not where Andonovski's priorities are with her at the moment.
"I absolutely think it's possible," Andonovski said. "I had a great conversation with Alex. She's very driven and she's very excited. The main point of the conversation was that she has to be healthy and have a healthy pregnancy and she needs to deliver a healthy baby, that should be her main focus right now, and that's what we're excited about. We talked about creating different programs to help her expedite the process, so after the delivery when she comes back, she gets back in her form as soon as possible.
"Ultimately, and this is just not for Alex, but for everyone on the team, whoever deserves, whoever performs will be on the Olympic team–that's [presuming] we qualify in February."