Vlatko Andonovski, the new U.S. women's national team
head coach, was 24 when he moved to the United States from North Macedonia in 2000.
He came to continue his playing career indoors. Little did he know, his calling was in coaching -- coaching women's soccer, a sport that was still taking off in communities around the country.
The NPSL folded after Andonovski's first season with the Wichita Wings, but he played five more years indoors, mostly with the MISL's Kansas City Comets. He was the MISL Defender of the Year in 2002 and MISL MVP in 2005 with the Comets and a two-time MISL All-Star.
Andonovski settled with his wife, Biljana, in Kearney, Missouri, outside Kansas City, and earned a degree at Park University. Like so many other ambitious coaches, he cobbled a career, finding soccer jobs in the Kansas City area wherever he could: youth soccer, college and indoors, in leagues like the PASL and MASL.
“When I look back, I could not believe that was going to happen,” he said on Monday when he was introduced as the new women's coach in New York. “When I came to the country, first of all, it was for me to enjoy the game and play the game that I love. I never even thought about being a coach. But once I started coaching in the back of my mind, I thought about it all the time.”
Andonovski was the director of coaching for Futura FC and Sporting Blue Valley and helped out with the men's and women's teams at Metropolitan Community College-Blue River. He started to make a name for himself in girls soccer, running the ODP program for Missouri and coaching KCFC/Futura Academy.
When the NWSL came along in 2013 and the owners of the Comets were granted a team in Kansas City, Andonovski was the natural choice to coach FC Kansas City, the new women's team.
The thing is, they also handed Andonovski the coaching responsibilities for the Comets. In his second season, both the Comets and FC Kansas City won league titles. FC Kansas City repeated at NWSL champion in 2015.
Andonovski quickly developed a reputation for the details as he went to to scout players and prepare his teams, and even though their seasons didn't overlap, he decided in 2016 that coaching the two teams was too much and concentrated on FC Kansas City.
"I'm not arrogant by any means," he recently told ESPN, "and I know that when I came in the league I was nobody. I know that every coach in the league was way ahead of me. I knew that I had to do a lot of work to catch up and be able to mesh with the product on the field."
After the 2017 season, FC Kansas City folded. Andonovski took job at the head coach of the Seattle Reign, but he continued to reside in the Kansas City area.
Comets managing partner Brian Budzinski, who gave Andonovski his first pro coaching job, said the combination of jobs shaped him into the coach he is today.
"When I look back and think how it all started for Vlatko, it's crazy," said Budzinski. "We had some great experiences at many different levels. I'm just thankful to have played a small part in a few of his experiences."
Photo: Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire