Refreshed Emma Hayes makes impressive start to new role as USWNT head coach

After her 12-year spell at Chelsea came to an end in May, winning a dramatic WSL title on the final day ahead of Manchester City, Hayes flew straight into her new role as head coach of the US Women’s National Team and landed on a resounding 4-0 victory against South Korea.

It was the first time American fans got to see Hayes as their new coach after the move to replace Vlatko Andonovski was announced in November, and what they witnessed was an excited and refreshed coach.

After the victory in Colorado, Hayes said: “I just feel re-energised and I want to coach this group and they want to be coached. You can see we are building something.

“There is lots of work to do. There is lots of holes in our play, no question, but it was a good start.”

As much as coaching the most successful women’s national team in history was an obvious attraction for Hayes, it was also about wrestling some time back after 12 years of constant, gruelling demands that club football expects from an individual.

Hayes is not unfamiliar with the States after spending three years coaching in New York during the early 2000s and returned to the country in 2008 to manage Chicago Red Stars, before becoming technical director at New York Flash. She ended her second stint in America as a consultant on the board of Washington Freedom before she accepted the Chelsea job in 2012.

Now she has returned. 

Hayes has arrived to a national team that had also been feeling exhausted but, unlike Hayes, they were losing the battle with their performances on the pitch, at all levels of the game. 

Cracks started to appear in the seemingly impenetrable armour at the Olympics in Tokyo, losing to their North American rivals Canada in the semi-final.

They won a bronze medal to spare some of their blushes, but they were not able to do that two years later in the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, where they recorded their worst-ever finish in the competition.

Megan Rapinoe and Kelly O’Hara both missed penalties as the USWNT exited to Sweden in the round of 16 and it felt like an era of dominance was coming to an end for not only those two but for the whole country in the women’s game.

They were void of creativity, missed that clinical edge and had little cohesion among a squad that shared years of success with one another.

But those worries that had carried over since the World Cup in 2023 were almost instantly squashed during Hayes’ first game against South Korea, and were then backed up in the second part of the double-header against their Asian opponents.

There was an excitement, a swagger, a fluidity and a healthy aggressiveness in their play, and on an individual and team basis, everything seemed to be on the incline.

Hayes said: “It is a step-by-step process of exposing the players to the information, overloading their brain. Then they comprehend that and then apply that.

“I could see lots of little things happening from an individual, a unit and a team perspective that was impressive.”

This batch of friendlies was Hayes’ first, but also last, chance to look at the pool of players before she announced her 18-member Olympic team in July, and the former Chelsea coach made some bold choices.

U.S. regulars such as Alex Morgan, Lindsey Horan and NWSL leading scorer Sophia Smith were all chosen, but among the experienced pros were some choices that also looked to the future of the national team.

Take midfielder Hal Hershfelt. The 21-year-old midfielder had never played for the USA at any level, while 16-year-old Lily Yohannes also got called up for the second time after her impressive campaign at Ajax.

The teenager scored the third goal on her debut in USA’s second game against South Korea, which ended 3-0 to the Hayes’ side, and the celebrations demonstrated a connection that Hayes hasn’t seen throughout her managerial career.

She said: “I don’t think I’ve seen an environment so embracing, so caring about everyone in it. I mean I’ve seen it and I’ve experienced it all week.

“You could see what not only it (Yohannes’ debut goal) meant for her and I’m sure her family, but her teammates too. It was lovely to watch the celebration of everyone.”

It has helped revitalise the USWNT team in their performances during these June friendlies, with players who have been staples of the squad also seeing an upturn in form when playing for their country.

Mallory Swanson hadn’t scored a goal for the USA in 15 months due to a long injury spell, but in her first game under the new manager netted twice.

She showed instinctual movement and lethal finishing, the kind that you would expect from a forward who was on a seven-game scoring streak, as well as a great understanding with her teammates.

Defender Tierna Davidson headed twice from corners in the first game against South Korea, as they looked a threat from all departments.

In their 3-0 victory, there was a similar theme of fluidity even with the personnel change and Hayes has created early enthusiasm amongst the USWNT fans and players at a time when people may have needed reminding of the pedigree that this national team have.

These two impressive statements from the USWNT came against the world number 20, and in their final send-off, before they head to the Olympics, they are set to face 31st-ranked Mexico and 44th-ranked Costa Rica.

When they get to Paris, they will know the likes of Germany, France and world champions Spain will give them a sterner test, especially with the added incentive of an Olympic gold medal in contention.

But this is a restored USWNT and a reinvigorated Emma Hayes who have met at the perfect time, and just in time to battle for a record-extending fifth gold medal this summer in Paris.


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