On June 7, Taylor Kornieck was driving when a text message, from a number she didn’t have saved to her phone, flashed on her car dashboard. It wasn’t a spam or phishing message, but one from someone she’s hoping to get to know well. “Hi Taylor, this is Vlatko,” it opened.
The Vlatko in question is, of course, Vlatko Andonovski, the coach of the United States women’s national team. And in his text, he asked the budding San Diego Wave FC star midfielder if she had a few minutes to chat.
“Literally my heart dropped,” says the 23-year-old Kornieck.
She promptly pulled into a Shell gas station, cut short a phone call with her mother and rang Andonovski. It was then he told her she would be on the 23-person roster heading to Mexico for the Concacaf W Championship this July, an event which doubles as qualification for the 2023 Women’s World Cup and ’24 Paris Olympics. “I was speechless,” Kornieck says. “I couldn’t believe it. It’s been my dream ever since I was a little girl.”
Kornieck is one of three first-timers who could make their debut in friends vs. Columbia later this month. She is also currently the lone player who has yet to record a USWNT cap on the team’s Concacaf squad, which was publicly announced last Monday (the two others seeking their debuts vs. Colombia, Carson Pickett and Sam Coffey, are not part of the final qualifying team). It marks the biggest accolade in Kornieck’s career. But it is far from the only one she’s received of late. She was recently named to the NWSL’s Best XI for the month of May. And last Wednesday, Kornieck was honored as the league’s Player of the Week, after scoring both of Wave FC’s goals in a 2–2 draw vs. the Portland Thorns.
“All credit to her because she has worked extremely hard, she’s coachable and she was outstanding tonight,” Wave FC coach Casey Stoney said afterward. “People recognize her for her height but look at how she used her feet and the ball to dictate the game.”
Kornieck’s 6′ 1″ stature is often among the first attributes mentioned when describing her repertoire. (The USWNT, for instance, even explicitly said in its release that she will be the program’s tallest field-player in history when she sees the pitch during a contest.) But while Kornieck says it can make her a target for referees, her ability to sky over smaller defenders in the box also ensures she’s a constant threat during set pieces.
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“I know she’s flashy when it comes down to her aerial challenges or physicality but what stood out to us is her ability to read the game and creativity,” Andonovski told reporters.
This year, more than in either of her first two professional campaigns, Kornieck says she is more comfortable setting up teammates. While she was the No. 3 pick of the Orlando Pride in the 2020 NWSL draft, she made only 26 appearances (17 starts) with the club and was traded to San Diego in January. With Wave FC, Kornieck is taking advantage of a fresh start, feeling as if she’s made significant improvements in understanding game tactics. “Confidence has kinda followed,” she says.
It certainly has also helped that Kornieck has a clear connection with star striker Alex Morgan, who joined the San Diego expansion team this year after also previously playing with the Pride. Morgan, Kornieck says, has been a mentor to her in recent seasons, helping the former University of Colorado star acclimate to the professional game. And the duo’s on-field synergy was something Andonovski felt would be advantageous to the USWNT roster as well, noting “we feel like [it] is going to be very valuable.”
How immediate of an impact Kornieck makes on the star-studded US roster remains to be seen. But even just getting the call-up, she says, is “validation of how I’ve been doing.”
Last week, after the USWNT roster was released, Kornieck says her phone started “blowing up,” from friends, family and others from her soccer past. But rest assured that when her national team coach now wants to reach her, he no longer comes up as just a random number.
“Oh, absolutely,” she says when asked if she added Andonovski to her contacts. “First thing I did.”
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