Park duo aiming for Gold at Summer Olympics

Vlatko+Andonovski%2C+a+2008+graduate+of+Park+University%2C+will+lead+the+U.S.+Women%27s+National+Team+to+the+Summer+Olympics+as+their+head+coach.

Brad Smith of isiphotos.com

Vlatko Andonovski, a 2008 graduate of Park University, will lead the U.S. Women’s National Team to the Summer Olympics as their head coach.

Nathan Dunn, Reporter

A pair of Park University alumni are preparing to lead the United States Women’s National Team to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The 2020 games were rescheduled to begin in late July 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vlatko Andonovski, a 2008 graduate of Park with a business administration degree, serves as the head coach of the USWNT. He will be joined by Milan Ivanovic, a 2009 graduate of Park with an international business degree, as an assistant coach.

The 12-team tournament will begin with group stage matches starting on July 21 and conclude with the final on August 6. The groups will be drawn in April.

The U.S. will be looking to take back the gold medal after losing to Sweden in penalty kicks in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

For Andonovski, the journey has been unique. A native of Skopje, North Macedonia, in former Yugoslavia, Andonovski came to the U.S. to play indoor soccer for the Wichita Wings in 2000. After the Wings folded, he was drafted by the Kansas City Comets in 2001, where he played until 2005.

As he looked past his playing days, Andonovski wanted to finish school and decided to attend Park University. Since he still had eligibility, he originally planned on playing for the Park men’s soccer team, but after talking with head coach Efrem Shimlis, he agreed to join the coaching staff.

“I wanted to be involved in any way possible,” Andonovski said. “My first duties were working with goalkeepers in Park University. I really enjoyed being around Coach Shimlis and just being around those good players.”

Andonovski’s next step in coaching was a return to indoor soccer, where he served as the head coach of the Kansas City Kings before joining the Missouri Comets as an assistant coach. Andonovski took over as head coach of the Comets and the inaugural year of FC Kansas City in 2013. He left the Comets in 2016 and joined the Seattle Reign in 2018 after FCKC ceased operations.

After a couple of years in Seattle, Andonovski took his biggest job yet, accepting a position to become the head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team.

Andonovski has a decorated résumé as a head coach, which includes two NWSL titles and a MISL title as a professional coach as well as four Missouri State championships and a Youth National championship as a youth coach. He has also won the NWSL Coach of the Year twice and the MASL Coach of the Year once. In September 2020, Andonovski was awarded the Distinguished Alumnus Award.

Ivanovic has taken a similar path: from Europe to Park University to indoor soccer and now into coaching. A native of Belgrade, Serbia, Ivanovic played in the Red Star Belgrade youth academy before coming to Park University in 2005, where he played three years with the Park men’s soccer team.

“We had 14 or 15 different nationalities on the team, so every day you would learn something new,” Ivanovic said. “For me as 19, 20-year-old, it was amazing experience just to meet people all around the world and learn more about American culture, about Ethiopian culture, about culture from people from Uganda, Kenya, Scotland, Spain.”

Milan Ivanovic, a 2009 graduate of Park University, will help the U.S. Women's National Team as an assistant coach.
Milan Ivanovic, a 2009 graduate of Park University, will help the U.S. Women’s National Team as an assistant coach. (Brad Smith of isiphotos.com)

After graduating, he returned to Europe to play professionally. He returned to Kansas City in 2012 when he joined the Missouri Comets. He spent six seasons with the Comets and won the 2014 MISL championship before joining the Tacoma Stars for a short stint in 2018.

Ivanovic’s professional coaching career began in 2015 when he joined Andonovski as an assistant coach for FC Kansas City. He followed Andonovski’s steps to Seattle in 2018 and joined him with the USWNT in 2019.

The Park duo has led the USWNT to a 16-0 record, which is the best record for a new coach in USWNT history. Highlighting their early success has been winning the SheBelieves Cup title in both 2020 and in 2021.

Andonovski was certain that the preparation for the Olympics has been the most challenging task for him as the head coach of the USWNT.

“Choosing the roster of 18 players, which I know is not going to be easy, but also playing against 11 of the best teams in the world,” Andonovski said. “We’re doing everything possible to evolve as a team and keep on getting better to hopefully be as prepared as we can when the challenges come in front of us.”

The USWNT has scheduled a friendly against Sweden in April, and Andonovski said that he plans on scheduling more games in June when the FIFA window opens up for the final time before the Olympics.

“As a coach, it is something that doesn’t come very often, so just the idea of winning it is something that makes you feel great,” Ivanovic said. “Before dreaming about it, I think we need to focus on putting the work in and preparing for it.”

After the Olympics were postponed in 2020, the preparation has been extended for another year. The U.S. will be looking to claim its fifth gold medal in women’s soccer since it was added to the Summer Olympics in 1996.

“Winning the Olympics is going to be just a crown on all the hard work and determination that we put in over the years,” Andonovski said. “It would be a win for the team, for this country, for the communities that I represent, for the schools that I went to, for my family, for everyone.”