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USWNT coach shrugs off World Cup pressure before Portugal match

(Robin Alam/USSF/Getty Images)

Vlatko Andonvski isn’t feeling any added pressure before the U.S. women’s national team’s final group-stage game, which will determine his team’s for the rest of the World Cup.

A loss against Portugal at 3 a.m. ET Tuesday almost certainly would mean elimination, a first for the USWNT. The four-time champions have never failed to advance to the knockout stage. This match marks the first time in 16 years that the USWNT has faced elimination during the group stage with a loss.

“I don’t know how it is with the other coaches and the other national teams, but the moment you sit in this chair — the moment I sat in this chair in 2019 — is when the pressure starts,” Andonovski told reporters Monday. “This isn’t something new. The only thing that changed from 2019 to now is I just learned how to turn the pressure into excitement.

“I came into this World Cup not thinking, ‘Oh my gosh’ — it’s, ‘We’re having a chance to compete for a title.'”

Change isn’t necessarily something that Andonovski has sought in his time at the helm for the USWNT. He told The Athletic back in April that he doesn’t know if he’s changed since joining the USWNT from the NWSL.

“I don’t know if I have changed, but things around me have changed a lot,” he said. “The environment, obviously, is different. The people I’m surrounded by for most of the day are different, even though I try to stay the same as much as possible.

“It’s different preparing for a Saturday afternoon game against the Utah Royals and it’s different preparing for the Netherlands in a World Cup. I don’t think I’ve changed, or maybe I feel like I haven’t changed. Maybe I have.”

Andonovski has followed the lead of his players, who formed a “bubble” during the 2019 World Cup run, he said Monday. The USWNT has followed a similar plan in New Zealand, and players aren’t checking social media during the tournament. (The only exception is Instagram). But that’s not a problem for Andonovski, who says he doesn’t have social media and he doesn’t read the news.

His press officer is his main source of information, he says, and has been “very good to me” in selecting the information he needs to — and doesn’t need to — know.

“I’m pretty sure if I knew everything outside of our bubble, I wouldn’t be smiling right now. That’s how I deal with pressure,” he said.

He also doesn’t want outside pressure to dictate how he makes decisions, he told The Athletic in April.

“This is no disrespect to anyone, I don’t want anything that is said outside to influence my decision,” Andonovski told The Athletic in April. “I want my decisions to be thorough, thoughtful and decisions I made based on what I know about the players, not what people from the outside told me.”

While a loss spells almost certainly elimination, a win for the USWNT does not assure the top spot in Group E. If the Netherlands wins its game by a greater margin than the USWNT’s goal differential, the U.S. likely will face Sweden, the same team that ended the USWNT’s Olympic gold medal hopes two years ago.

“For us the most important thing is getting into the knockout stage, first and foremost,” Andonovski said Monday. “That’s our main focus.

“We don’t want to look two, three, four steps forward. It’s the first step. Let’s make sure that we get into the next stage. If we start thinking too far ahead, our chance may never come.”