Newly hired U.S. women’s national team coach Vlatko Andonovski brings a different look than former coach Jill Ellis as manager. Despite taking over a team that is the two-time defending World Cup champ, he’ll have challenges to overcome.

The most striking thing about Andonovski, who previously coached Reign FC in the National Women’s Soccer League, is how glowing his reviews are from his former players — both tactically and in terms of off-the-field relationships, a delicate balance for any coach to strike. He won two NWSL championships with FC Kansas City and drove his Reign teams to the playoffs in both of his seasons in the Pacific Northwest.

His key challenge might be cultural. He comes to the team at a time of transition, with the Olympics about eight months away. Several members of its veteran core are on the wrong side of 35. Plus, there’s the team’s ongoing effort to push his bosses at U.S. Soccer for equal pay. That’s a delicate line to walk for any coach, and doubly so when entering the fight in the middle. He’s tasked with helping those veterans finish their careers with a gold medal, while also finding their replacements among the NWSL’s young talent. Managing that transition will be difficult.

Short takes

• After a few weeks of deliberation, right back Sergino Dest — eligible to play for both the Netherlands and the United States— has committed to play for the U.S. It’s a coup for America, which can now count on the services of a teenager who’s forced his way into Ajax’s starting lineup one season after Ajax made the Champions League semifinals. Maybe Dest saw just how hopeless the U.S. looked against Canada a few weeks ago and concluded he had a duty to help the country for which he’d played all of his international youth soccer.

• MLS Cup finalists Seattle (fourth) and Toronto (ninth) finished well down in the league standings, 16 and 22 points behind Supporters’ Shield winner LAFC. No matter which team wins the MLS Cup, it’s striking how far off the pace they were over the regular season. It’s more evidence that the Supporters’ Shield is a better barometer of excellence.

WATCH GUIDE

Bundesliga: Hertha Berlin at Union Berlin, 12:30 p.m. Saturday, FS1. Hertha has long had the Bundesliga to itself, but the West Berlin giants now have to make their first first-division trip to Union Berlin in East Berlin. The two clubs’ histories mirror their geographical separation. Hertha, like West Berlin, has long been more successful, while Union, just like East Berlin, has struggled to escape the damaging effects of East Germany’s failure. One week from the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, this match feels like it has a bigger meaning.

 

Writer Jon Marthaler gives you a recap of recent events and previews the week ahead. E-mail: jmarthaler@gmail.com