USA-South Korea: Camp offers a chance for U.S. players to lean on each other

The USA opens its second post-Olympics series on Thursday when it hosts South Korea at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City.

The game will be a homecoming for U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski, who moved from his native North Macedonia in 2000 to play indoor soccer with the Kansas City Comets and then got into coaching.

He later coached the Comets and became involved in women's pro soccer when the Comets' owners started FC Kansas City in 2013, the NWSL's first season. Andonovski quickly made a name for himself in the NWSL, leading FC Kansas City to league titles in 2014 and 2015 and stepping down from his role with the Comets in 2016.

Thursday's match coincides with FIFA World Cup 2026 inspection tour of Kansas City, and Andonovski is a big supporter of Kansas City soccer.

"They will be surprised to see the buzz in the community," he said on a media call on Wednesday.

'I'm just saddened and feel terrible.' As someone who has been around women's pro soccer since the NWSL's launch, Andonovski said he was saddened by the revelations about Paul Riley, against whom he coached for six seasons in the NWSL and who was fired on Sept. 30 after allegations of sexual coercion and misconduct were made by two of his former players, Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim, in The Athletic.

While Andonovski said the national team players have been in camp in Kansas City only a short time, he said it was important for them to be able to talk through everything that has happened over the last three week and support each other.

"We talked about the importance of creating a safe environment for the players," he said of the team's first group meeting, "and just talked about what this camp is all about, how everything that they've gone through in their markets, in their club team environments, where they've led their teams through these tough times. But also the importance of being in this camp and leaning on each other and leading together, and overcoming, everything that has been going on. I said before that I'm just saddened and feel terrible for the players that are directly involved in this, but also all the other players and staff in in the league, and women's soccer in general in the States."

'Future of the team.' Of the 22 members of the U.S. Olympic bronze-medal team, 17 are on the roster for the South Korea series. The two games will be the last for star Carli Lloyd, who is the second most capped in the world with 314 appearances and fourth all-time in goals with 134.

Andonovski said one of the goals of the series is to give some of the young players more playing time. He said Catarina Macario, who has been starring for Lyon in France, is one of the players he calls the "future of the team."

"She is a very creative player," he said, "and her role on the national team will grow from game to game. I am happy where she is at in this stage of her career."

With four caps, Racing Louisville's Emily Fox is the least capped player in camp, but she should get plenty of playing time with starting left back Crystal Dunn not in camp.

'An extremely organized and disciplined team.' The Americans beat Paraguay, 9-0 and 8-0, in September to extend their winning streak at home to 22 games. The Koreans will provide a much tougher test.

"It is an extremely organized and disciplined team," said Andonovski. "They're very compact, very tough to beat. They're very organized on their side of the field but also very methodical in attack."

The heart of the team is in midfield with the English-based trio of Cho So-hyun (Tottenham), Ji So-yun (Chelsea, photo) and Lee Geum-min (Brighton & Hove Albion).

South Korea has played in the last two Women's World Cup and almost made it to the Tokyo Olympics, falling to China in a two-leg series in April that went to overtime. In September, it qualified for the 2022 AFC Women's Asian Cup, which will decide Asia's entrants to the 2023 Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, with wins over Mongolia (12-0) and Uzbekistan (4-0).

A second USA-South Korea game will be played on Tuesday at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Photo: Dannie Walls/Icon Sportswire

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