FIFA Women's World Cup
Can USA coach Vlatko Andonovski adapt against Sweden?
FIFA Women's World Cup

Can USA coach Vlatko Andonovski adapt against Sweden?

Updated Aug. 5, 2023 7:26 p.m. ET

MELBOURNE, Australia — Albert Einstein never actually said that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. However, restless fans of the United States women's national team could be wondering where coach Vlatko Andonovski's head is at nonetheless.

During the USWNT's three group-stage games at the 2023 Women's World Cup — disappointing ties with Portugal and the Netherlands and a ho-hum win against overmatched Vietnam — the Americans were mostly inefficient, indecisive and disconnected. The game plan didn't work. 

So, on the eve of Sunday's do-or-die match in the round of 16 here against Sweden (coverage begins at 4 a.m. ET, with kickoff at 5 a.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app), the obvious question is: What Andonovski is going to do about it?

Will Vlatko Andonovski get it done against Sweden?


The 46-year-old has a well-earned reputation as a conservative, somewhat inflexible coach. But now, with his team flailing and desperately in need of something — anything — to get them out of their malaise or risk crashing out of a World Cup before the semifinals for the first time ever, something has to give. 

To be fair, Andonovski did shake things up slightly when the U.S. was trailing the Dutch 1-0 at halftime in its second game of the first round. He inserted Rose Lavelle, who didn't start because of fitness concerns following a return from injury. But he also showed a willingness to be pragmatic, taking risks by throwing more players into the attack, a notable departure from the patient, methodical approach he has favored for the last four years.

It worked. Lavelle created the equalizer, and the U.S. was somewhat unlucky not to turn the momentum swing into a late winning goal. 

"We obviously had a game plan and were not able to execute it because of some of the things our opponent did," Andonovski said of that tactical switch against the Netherlands during Saturday's pre-match press conference at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium. "We had to change things at halftime, and we executed very well."

Then again, the move was also reactive. The Americans were losing. Andonovski had little choice at that point in that game but to gamble. In this one, conceding the opener could be fatal. This is an elimination match. Unlike against the Netherlands, there is no margin of error Sunday. 

[Read more: Coach Vlatko Andonovski says U.S. 'performance was crap' vs. Portugal]

With everything on the line, making a major change or two could help a team that has been far too predictable to this point. Some have gone as far as suggesting he bench superstar striker Alex Morgan. Not going to happen. But Andonovski does have other options. 

He could bring Sophia Smith in off the wing and pair her up top alongside Morgan. Smith, the NWSL's top scorer this season, plays centrally for her club team, the league champion Portland Thorns

He could move one of Crystal Dunn or Julie Ertz into the midfield, where they both have vast experience. If he deploys Ertz in the destroyer role she occupied with such distinction en route the 2019 title in France, it would surely mean the first World Cup minutes for center back Alana Cook.

Sweden vs. United States preview from World Cup NOW

One thing is for certain: With Lavelle suspended Sunday after picking up two yellow cards in the final two group games, Andonovski must go to his bench. Savannah DeMelo lined up in Lavelle's spot for the first pair of matches Down Under, but Andonovski also has other options there.   

"We know Ashley Sanchez can step in and execute the attacking midfielder role," he said Saturday, which might or might not be a clue. 

"We have a great roster," he added. "There are great players on the roster that are here for a reason, for moments like this, and are ready and able to step in at any point in time."

[Read more: How does USWNT replace suspended Rose Lavelle?]

Beyond simply shuffling personnel, Andonovski also suggested he's not philosophically opposed to making broader tactical changes. "At any point in time, if we feel like there are changes that need to be made because it's not working, then we're going to."

Nothing worked in the last match against Portugal, and it very nearly knocked the U.S. out of the tournament. "There's no sugarcoating that we had a bad game," said Morgan on Saturday. "We are lucky." 

The Americans have spent the days since trying to make sure there isn't a repeat of that performance. The stakes are immense. Can this USWNT live up to the sky-high standards that have been set through the decades by their predecessors?  

"We're highly motivated" — Alex Morgan

"Our goal is to win the World Cup," Andonovski said flatly in June. Now, just winning this next game is the only one in mind. 

"For everybody that wants to see more, we promise that we're going to do whatever we can, and we're preparing ourselves as best as we can, to provide success and meet the expectations for everyone," the coach said Saturday.

Is he willing to do whatever is necessary to accomplish that — even if it means trying something radically different? 

We'll find out soon enough.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.


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