- USA are on a 31-match unbeaten streak
- Evolution not revolution under new coach Vlatko Andonovski
- We look at four key aspects of new regime
“If I had to describe my style of play in three words it would be: ‘attractive’, ‘attacking’ and ‘aggressive’ soccer.”
USA women’s national team head coach Vlatko Andonovski was speaking to reporters moments after his side dismantled Canada 3-0 and waltzed to the top of the podium at the Concacaf Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship.
Following a flawless Olympic qualifying campaign, the USWNT lifted the 2020 SheBelieves Cup on home soil, winning all three matches against England, Spain and Japan and conceding just one goal in the process.
The 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' cliche very much applies to USA and Andonovski. After five extremely successful years playing for Jill Ellis and winning back-to-back World Cups, there has not been a revolution with the new coach. Instead, it's been an evolution. FIFA.com looks at four tenets of the new Andonovski regime to know what fans can expect from the top-ranked side at Tokyo 2020.
High and coordinated press
One defining new trait of the USWNT under Andonovski is the application of an intentional high press, beginning with players like Carli Lloyd, Christen Press and Tobin Heath. In their opening match against England, whenever they would lose the ball, USA were constantly pressing in order to win the ball as high up the pitch as possible.
“The front three, we have a really incredible amount of running we need to do in the defensive press up there and that suits me because I've been a midfielder my whole life and I have the mindset of doing that dirty work," Lloyd said. "Most people label forwards as maybe not wanting to do the defensive work. But in this formation, and the way we play, we have to, we're the start of it."
As Andonovski said best, "putting teams on their heels is in our DNA."
Still a 4-3-3 with stand-out holding midfielder (Ertz)
One could make the argument that Julie Ertz, who just celebrated her 100th cap, is the USA's most important player. Her reading of the game and aggressive, well-timed tackling are crucial in that position, especially when the Stars and Stripes come up against possession-based opposition like Spain.
“I don’t know if I can say this, but I start getting the feeling that Julie Ertz might be the most important player for this squad,” Andonovski said. “I didn’t know that until I started working with this team, but the more we work and the more we play and the more games we get, I just start getting the feeling like this team revolves around her. She’s the glue defensively and she’s the go-to person offensively and besides that, she’s a true professional and student of the game. It’s just a pleasure working with her.”
More individual freedom
Multiple players have expressed that Andonovski encourages independent thinking when they're on the ball. Press in particular has made that point: "With Jill, we were in a very regimented system which provided a lot of clarity for players, but didn't necessarily allow everyone's individual talents to shine. Some people absolutely but others less, so I feel there's a bit of a freedom now with less thinking about what you should be doing and more just doing what you want."
Andonovski is getting the best out of players who thrive in one-v-one situations and can penetrate on the dribble and have the flair to outthink their opponents - look for more of that from players like Press, Rose Lavelle and Heath.
Re-emergence of Lloyd and Press
Lloyd and Press both look to have found another gear in their performance levels since Andonovski took over. Press has scored nine goals in her last ten games and has been directly involved in 25 goals over her last 26 appearances, scoring 11 and assisting 14. While Lloyd has thrived in a No9 position, showcasing strong hold-up and link-up play.
"I can help lead the team and start the press off but having somebody who respects who am I as a person, as a player, sees how much work I put in every single training session, every single game, I'm just here to keep continuing to get better," said Lloyd. “We can never take our foot off the pedal. We've also got an unbelievable team and as long as we keep getting better, this team is definitely unstoppable."
One of the big questions moving forward for Andonovoski will be if he can blood in some young players into the ageing USA squad, including Mallory Pugh, Tierna Davidson, Andi Sullivan and Sophia Smith.
Did you know?
Andonovski has a 10-0 record, bringing him level with Pia Sundhage for the best start to a tenure as USA head coach.