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For USWNT, a different Thanksgiving abroad caps off a weird year

Brad Smith/ISI Photos

Vlatko Andonovski came to the United States 20 years ago to pursue a professional soccer career, at the encouragement of friend and fellow Macedonian Dino Delevski. It took some adjusting to learn how to play soccer indoors and with hockey boards, a concept which he recently recalled on the Kickin’ Back podcast felt like a joke to his family back home.

Andonovski adapted quickly and turned a successful indoor playing career into a head-coaching career that now sees him at the pinnacle of women’s soccer: in charge of the two-time defending World Cup champion United States. He also needed some time to adapt to U.S. traditions, including Thanksgiving.

“I can’t remember what the first Thanksgiving looked like,” Andonovski said Wednesday. “I was probably trying to learn what Thanksgiving is, and what it actually represents. But in Kansas City, it’s a mix of American and Macedonian food, and lots of family around. We’re enjoying the holiday very much.”

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The “we” during this strange calendar year is Andonovski, his U.S. Soccer staff, and 23 players — all of whom are isolated at a remote hotel in the Netherlands ahead of the team’s first international match in over eight months on Friday.

“I do think this is the first time with the full team that I’ve been away from the U.S. and friends and family, but I definitely, in my youth career, I was gone a lot,” U.S. defender Kelley O’Hara said. “I don’t think I was ever home for Thanksgiving. So, it’s a little weird; I actually forgot that [Thursday] is Thanksgiving, which is kind of sad, but it’s OK. We’ll make the best of it.”

Andonovski said the staff would try to give the players “a little taste of home.” He and his staff started the morning early with a turkey trot run.

There will at least be some family inside the U.S. Soccer bubble. Alex Morgan is back in training camp with her six-month-old baby, Charlie, and Sam Mewis and Kristie Mewis are in a senior national team camp together for the first time in six years following Kristie’s incredible return to form in 2020.

“To be here for Thanksgiving together is awesome,” Sam Mewis said. “I know my parents wish we could all be together but in such a weird time, I think it’s really special that I’m going to have a family member here for a holiday, so it’s really cool and I’m very grateful for that.”

Kickin’ Back with Kristie Mewis

O’Hara said the hotel setting — woodsy, with outdoor trails for walking — would help make the day feel a little bit like a holiday. She did observe something during those outdoor walks that she playfully feared might have to do with Thanksgiving.

“There’s a pen that has turkeys in it and we feel like they might be dinner [Thursday] night,” O’Hara said. “I’m concerned about walking by the pen Friday morning and being like, all the turkeys are gone. So, that might be how we’re celebrating.”

Andonovski was not asked to confirm or deny that particular detail. He said that Macedonian meat pies are “always present on the table” as part of his family’s adapted Thanksgiving, but he does stick with the tradition he learned:

“Of course, we gotta have turkey. You gotta have turkey on the table.”

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