LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Vlatko Andonovski is coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team, which makes him, by definition, a leading voice for women’s soccer in the nation. But before that, he was the premier coach in the National Women’s Soccer League — a two-time NWSL coach of the year— and has been part of that organization from its inception.
He has been praised as a superior tactician, but he also knows what it takes to build the game, the infrastructure, youth academies, facilities and more.
So when Andonovski, who took over the women’s national team in October of 2019, visited Louisville last Friday to take a look at the new training grounds for Racing Louisville FC ahead of its game that night against the Washington Spirit, he did so with an experienced eye.
And let’s just say his eyes were opened.
Flanked by Racing Louisville FC President Brad Estes, Vice President James O’Connor and Racing Louisville coach Christy Holly, Andonovski was pleased not only with the $15 million training project and 30,000 square-foot indoor facility, but by what it means for the league.
He knows that no matter what the level, new facilities in one place can mean new facilities elsewhere.
"For someone who has been in this league since Day 1, to see something like this is very fulfilling and it makes me very excited to see how much the league has grown," Andonovski said. "... For the players who are here and play for Louisville, or even the players coming to train here a day before a game or two days before, I think it’s a good example of what it should look like. It just makes me smile when I’m walking around this facility."
Word gets around. That good reputation has allowed Racing to land a couple of players from overseas, and is becoming well-known already around the league.
"The way they talk about not just the facility but how they feel about the team and how they feel about the environment and the culture I’m not surprised that they’re doing this," Andonovski said "They’re all in. What I like the most is they don’t talk about, 'This is what we’re going to do for the men’s team and this is what we’re going to do for the women’s team.' It’s all the same. It’s all one. And it makes me excited that the women’s team is being treated equal if not better in some instances."
The profile of women’s soccer in the U.S. has never been higher. And while leagues like the NWSL haven’t captured quite the depth of interest of the women’s national team in, say, Olympic or World Cup competitions, the success of those teams without question has sold sponsors and others on the viability of the women’s game.
Racing Louisville FC has drawn better than 6,000 fans for each of its first two regular season games at home, and that’s with COVID-19 restrictions in place. It will welcome Bayern Munich and Paris St. Germain to an event later this summer. And though it is an expansion club, it is off to a 1-0-1 start right out of the box.
The NWSL has more expansion teams coming online in upcoming years, particularly in Los Angeles, with a high-profile ownership group.
It all makes Andonovski excited for the future of the women’s game.
"The state of women’s soccer is getting better and better," he said. "From Day 1, I’ve been involved from where it was to where it is now. And owners like this (in Louisville), the more they are involved in the game like these guys, is what makes it better. I’m excited to see it. As a national team coach I know that the players for the national team are going to be in good environments and going to get good support, good treatment, good equipment, good training facilities, good coaches, everything that they need to become the best that they can be. And ultimately as the national team coach, I will benefit or the national team will benefit from it. And the other thing, with all this, it’s not just the players from the United States, but players from all over are coming in, which are going to make the league even more competitive and ultimately help our players get the best out of them."
And in Louisville, they are getting to do that in considerable style.
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