The Coach Who Can’t Lose

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Andonovski readily cops to the charges. He knows his players do not need to be taught how to win. He knows they do not often not need their competitive fires stoked, either. But even in that hypercompetitive environment — Carli Lloyd has called the constant battle for roster places and playing time in tournament years “cutthroat” — someone has to set the bar and then raise it again and again, to demand more.

“I am doing it not to hurt them,” Andonovski said of his frank evaluations of his players. “I’m doing it because I am trying to help.”

For a United States team eager to regain the Olympic title it once took for granted, there is little time for hand holding. Andonovski’s job comes with such high expectations that one of his predecessors was dismissed shortly after losing a single game out of 55. Another, Jill Ellis, heard persistent calls for her firing even as she led the team to consecutive World Cup victories.

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Andonovski knew all of this when he was appointed 21 months ago, on the heels of that second straight World Cup title. His task was to take a team stocked with popular, elite professionals — though many on the wrong side of 30 — and to retool it on the fly, all without offending anyone and, oh yeah, while winning every trophy and, preferably, without losing a game.

Ever.

In describing these challenges, Andonovski used the word “easy” four times. To be clear, he said in an interview in his backyard on a sunny day in June, “I knew what I’m getting myself into.”

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And in March 2020, he felt he was in a great place: His team had just beaten Japan, and he thought it was peaking right on time for the Olympics, which were then only months away. Then came the pandemic and Andonovski, who buzzes with energy even when he is sitting perfectly still, was reduced to meticulously preparing in an office in a spare bedroom upstairs in his Kansas City home, limited to virtual meetings with his team instead of the occasional training camp and games.

The preparation he did in that spare room — everybody who knows Andonovski has a story, or five, about his exacting nature — will be on display Wednesday, when the United States, unbeaten under Andonovski (22-0-1), opens the Olympics against Sweden in Tokyo Stadium. The team is, again, arriving in strong form and in the role of tournament favorite.

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