With the departure of Vlatko Andonovski, the U.S. women’s national team is on the hunt for its next head coach. And Andonovski’s successor has a big job ahead, with the 2027 World Cup on the horizon and the 2024 Olympics just around the corner.
For USWNT veterans Tobin Heath and Christen Press, who discussed the coaching search on the latest episode of “The RE-CAP Show,” that means finding a candidate with both short- and long-term vision.
“We want to win the Olympics, we need to put ourselves back on track, back in the category that we want to be in,” Heath said. “And then we have a long-term focus toward the next World Cup.”
In the short term, Heath said, player identification is key. The new coach must have a “keen eye and understanding” of what it means to play at an international level and what is required of those players.
The current U.S. player pool is very distinct in its American playing style, which doesn’t always translate to the international game. But that doesn’t mean players can’t or won’t fit at the international level.
“You need somebody, a leader, with a keen understanding of the system that is going to be played, how to implement the system, and which players are best for the system,” Heath said. “That doesn’t mean: Who are the best players? Who’s scoring the most goals? Who’s everyone talking about? It’s not that at all.”
Press agreed with Heath, noting: “I think the point you’re making is, it’s not always the best player, because it’s the right players. And that’s player identification as a key part of a short-term strategy to turn this team around.”
With the Olympics coming up, the next USWNT coach will need to identify the “super factors” that can lead the team to victory. The 2015 and 2019 World Cup-winning teams each had a clear identity and a clear understanding of what each player needed to do. Even today, Heath and Press could identify the key factors from their 2015 and 2019 title runs.
As a result, the duo wants to see a coach who can come in and identify those factors on the changed USWNT roster.
“You don’t want to take away the best pieces of what the U.S. women’s national team are,” Heath said. “So somebody with an understanding of what we talked about, the DNA of a national team player — it’s very clear DNA, you don’t want to just scrap the whole thing.”
Another important factor in the new coach is player buy-in, Heath and Press said.
“I want to see a coach that not only do these players believe in them, respect them, but they want to fight for them,” Heath said. “You can tell coaches that players want to play for.”
Heath pointed to England’s Sarina Wiegman as an example of a team leader who has achieved that with her players. She also identified Australia’s Tony Gustavsson, who served as a USWNT assistant in 2015 and 2019, as a strong leader and teacher.
“For this group of players, when I think of what’s important – because there are so many young players and so many players that have not been at this level and have not had this responsibility – I do think you need a teacher,” she said. “You need somebody that is not developing with the players. We cannot have somebody that is learning at the same time that the players are learning.
“And we need somebody that is a proven winner. You have the best team in the world, there is no excuse to not go out and get the best coach in the world.”
The USWNT features plenty of strong pieces for whoever takes the reins. But that coach will need to make sure those pieces are used correctly.
“Obviously there’s a lot of noise from the World Cup and from the USWNT’s performance,” Press said. “And I think one thing that we have talked about is, people are saying, I’ll be the savior, I can do it. But the truth is, we don’t need a savior. We need a strategy.”