Andonovski resigns as USWNT coach after World Cup failure

Vlatko Andonovski has stepped down as head coach of the United States women's national team, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced Thursday.

Assistant coach Twila Kilgore has been appointed as interim coach for a pair of friendlies against South Africa on Sept. 21 and Sept. 24. She served as an assistant coach for the past year and a half and in 2021 became the first American-born woman to earn U.S. Soccer's pro coaching license.

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Regarding Andonovski's replacement, the USSF will need to act quickly, with the 2024 Olympics in Paris taking place in less than a year.

"All of us at U.S. Soccer thank Vlatko for his dedication to our Women's National Team over the past four years," U.S. Soccer sporting director Matt Crocker said in a statement. "Vlatko worked tirelessly for this team and has been a strong and positive leader for our women's program. We're grateful for everything he has contributed to U.S. Soccer and know he has a bright future in the sport."

The announcement comes in the wake of the USWNT's elimination by Sweden in the round of 16 at the Women's World Cup, the team's earliest exit from the competition in its history.

Combined with a lackluster bronze-medal finish at the Tokyo Olympics, there was no way forward for Andonovski.

While his record with the U.S. was 51-5-9, in major tournaments he was just 3-2-5 (games decided by penalty shootouts are officially recorded as draws).

"It's been the honor of my life to coach the talented, hard-working players of the USWNT for the past four years," Andonovski said.

"I'm very optimistic for the future of this program, especially considering all the young players that got opportunities over the past few years who will no doubt be leaders and impact players moving forward. While we are all disappointed by the outcome at this year's World Cup, I am immensely proud of the progress this team has made, the support they've shown for each other, and the inspiration they've provided for players around the world.

"I will be forever thankful to the U.S. Soccer Federation for giving me the chance to coach this remarkable team."

Sources told ESPN that the federation leadership spent the weeks since the team's elimination speaking with players, coaches, staff and Andonovski.

That effort was led by Crocker, who was hired earlier this year. Ultimately, both parties decided that it was best that Andonovski, whose contract was set to run until the end of 2023, not return.

The review of the U.S. women's team program is ongoing, sources added, including discussions over general manager Kate Markgraf's role moving forward.

"It's imperative that we continue to evolve and innovate, and we are excited about the path that lies ahead," Crocker said.

"We understand the challenges and have engaged with stakeholders from various corners of our sport -- players, coaches, and other individuals within the soccer landscape. The insights and perspectives gathered during these discussions have been instrumental in shaping our forward-looking plan. Our commitment to excellence remains unshakeable, and we believe this strategic plan will set the foundation for our Women's National Team to achieve greater heights in the years to come."

A source with knowledge of the situation told ESPN that Andonovski is a candidate for the manager's job at Kansas City Current. The NWSL club is being led by interim manager Caroline Sjöblom.

Andonovski will continue to be paid by the USSF through the end of his contract, unless he takes a new job elsewhere, a source with knowledge of the details of his contract told ESPN.

"We want to extend our deepest gratitude to Vlatko for his dedication to the Women's National Team," U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone said. "We know he will continue to contribute to the growth of the women's game in the United States and wish him well in his future endeavors."

Andonovski, 46, was hired by U.S. Soccer in 2019, following the resignation of two-time World Cup-winning manager Jill Ellis.

Despite his only previous managerial experience coming at the club level, both indoors with the Missouri Comets and later with the FC Kansas City and Reign FC (now OL Reign) in the NWSL, Andonovski had the support of veteran players, who lauded his player-management skills.

But cracks began to appear at the Tokyo Olympics, with the U.S. looking well short of the side that prevailed at the 2019 World Cup two years earlier.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a subdued atmosphere at the Olympics, was cited as one reason for the USWNT's lackluster performance, even as it claimed a bronze medal. As a result, Andonovski made the decision to bring in younger players.

The U.S. continued to rack up wins in friendlies, but against top sides the team struggled. Late in 2022, the USWNT lost consecutive matches to England, Spain and Germany, its first such losing streak in 29 years.

The U.S. rebounded in 2023 to claim the SheBelieves Cup against Brazil, Canada and Japan, but concerns about the team's midfield continued.

The Americans also endured an unfortunate spate of injuries that ruled out Catarina Macario, Mallory Swanson, Sam Mewis and Becky Sauerbrunn. The return of Julie Ertz to the team after she gave birth to her son, Madden, in August 2022 bolstered the side, but not in the manner expected.

Instead of shoring up a midfield that struggled, Sauerbrunn's injury meant that Ertz was forced to move to the back line. Fourteen of the 23 spots on the U.S. roster taken by players making their Women's World Cup debut.

Once the World Cup started, Andonovski faced criticism for his lineups and inability to make in-game adjustments, particularly his unwillingness to use his bench. The USWNT opened the World Cup with a 3-0 win over Vietnam, but draws against the Netherlands and Portugal meant the U.S. finished second in Group E. The U.S. was nearly eliminated when a shot from Portugal substitute Ana Capeta hit the post late in the 0-0 draw.

The Americans delivered a much-improved performance in the round of 16 against Sweden, but scoring remained a problem -- the U.S. had just four goals in four games -- and the defending champs were eliminated via penalties.