FC Kansas City

Coach who led FC Kansas City to two NWSL championships is leaving team

FC Kansas City coach Vlatko Andonovski during a match at Children’s Mercy Park.
FC Kansas City coach Vlatko Andonovski during a match at Children’s Mercy Park. Special to The Star

Vlatko Andonovski, who led FC Kansas City to two National Women’s Soccer League championships, will not return as coach in 2018.

Andonovski will instead move to the Pacific Northwest and coach the Seattle Reign, replacing Laura Harvey, the Reign announced Tuesday. He signed a two-year contract to serve as head coach and executive director of the Reign Academy.

“The opportunity and the mindset of the whole organization to do whatever it takes and provide for the players and the coaching staff to be successful is tremendous,” Andonovski said in an interview published by the Reign. “The support and logistics for the technical staff is great. Whatever we need to be successful they will give us.”

FC Kansas City and the NWSL started play in 2013, with the Blues reaching the four-team playoffs under Andonovski, the team’s only coach. The Blues won the league championship in 2014 and 2015, beating Harvey’s Reign in both finals, but have missed the playoffs the last two seasons.

Andonovski led FCKC to a 47-37-25 record over five seasons. His teams gave up the fewest goals per game (1.14) in that span.

Despite success early in his tenure with FCKC, the Blues struggled in 2016 and 2017, in part because of injuries to key players.

FCKC started its 2017 season with a win over Boston Breakers. But the good news turned sour immediately as the team announced two days later that star forward Amy Rodriguez sustained an anterior cruciate ligament tear in her left knee in the opener. She missed the remainder of the season.

The Blues struggled to stay above water in the league after that. Striker Shea Groom missed playing time because of a rib injury during the first month of the season, forcing Andonovski to turn to midfielders Brittany Ratcliffe, Lo’eau LaBonta and Alexa Newfield to generate offense. The three remained in rotation when Groom returned.

Veteran goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart helped keep FCKC within striking distance, allowing only 31 goals this season — tied for the fourth-best mark in the NWSL — and recording a league-high 97 saves.

But even with the addition of forward Sydney Leroux, who like Rodriguez missed the 2016 season because of pregnancy, the Blues only scored 29 goals in an 8-9-7 season.

“Without going into any details on the circumstances, I just want to say that it will not be easy without the FCKC logo and the 2 stars on my shirt, but I will always be one of their biggest fans,” Andonovski wrote in a goodbye note posted by Thad Bell of SB Nation.

When reached by The Star last week to discuss the state of the team with regards to rumors about the team’s future in Kansas City, FCKC owner Elam Baer, who is the CEO of North Central Equity LLC in Minneapolis, said he could not comment about the team at the time.

But Baer, who was not acknowledged by Andonovski in the goodbye note, was cited in FCKC’s news release.

“We thank Vlatko for all he has done for this club and we wish him the best of luck in the future,” Baer said.

FCKC finished seventh in the league standings with 31 points, nine points out of fourth place, this season.

With Andonovski leaving the Blues, there are three head coaching vacancies in the league. FC Kansas City will compete with Houston Dash and Sky Blue FC in drawing candidates for the job.

Harvey is expected to move into a role with U.S. Soccer, per Richard Farley of FourFourTwo, but she said in the Reign’s news release that she has not yet decided what her next step will be.

“When I asked Laura who she thought would be best to lead Reign FC after her departure, there was only one name she provided  —  Vlatko Andonovski,” said Predmore. “I have long admired how Vlatko works with his players, appreciated the grace, precision and resilience of how his teams play, and have long coveted the trophies he delivered as a result of his approach. I am confident he is the best person to build on Laura’s legacy and will help the club achieve its goal of winning an NWSL championship.”