Andonovsky readily accepts the accusations. He knows his players don’t need to learn how to win. He knows that they don’t often need to power their competition lights either. But even in this hypercompetitive environment – Carli Lloyd called the constant battle for roster spots and playing time in the tournament years a ‘cut-throat’ – someone has to set the bar, then raise it again. and again, to demand more.
“I’m doing it so as not to hurt them,” Andonovski said of his candid reviews of his players. “I do it because I’m trying to help.
For an American team eager to regain the Olympic title they once took for granted, there is little time to hold hands. So high expectations come with Andonovsky’s work that one of his predecessors was sacked shortly after losing just one in 55 games. Another, Jill Ellis, heard persistent calls for his dismissal even as she led the team to back-to-back World Cup victories.
Andonovsky knew all this when he was named 21 months ago, on the heels of his second consecutive World Cup title. His task was to take a squad filled with popular elite pros – albeit many on the wrong side of the 30s – and re-equip them on the fly, all without offending anyone and, oh yeah, while also winning all the trophies and, preferably without losing a game.
To describe these challenges, Andonovski has used the word “easy” four times. To be clear, he said in an interview in his backyard on a sunny June day: “I knew what I was getting into.”
And in March 2020, he was feeling good: his team had just beaten Japan, and he believed they were reaching their peak just in time for the Olympics, which were then only a few months away. Then came the pandemic, and Andonovski, who buzzes with energy even when seated perfectly still, was reduced to meticulously preparing in an office in a spare bedroom upstairs from 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 – anyone who knows Andonovsky has a story, or five, about his demanding nature – will be on display on Wednesday, when the United States, undefeated under Andonovsky (22-0-1) , will open the Olympic Games. against Sweden at Tokyo Stadium. The team arrives, once again, in great shape and in the role of tournament favorite.