Emma Hayes' USWNT trust-building mission begins with debut win over South Korea (2024)


Emma Hayes has been on the job less than a week yet she’s already learning some valuable things about the players she’ll be coaching with the women’s national soccer team.

“Well, their names, for starters,” she said.

Saturday she got to match some of those names to performances for the first time, with the U.S. beating South Korea 4-0 in Hayes’ international coaching debut before a sun-splashed overflow crowd of 19,010 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in suburban Denver.

Hayes auditioned 17 players and many gave favorable first impressions, with Mallory Swanson getting two goals and an assist, Tierna Davidson scoring twice, and Sophia Smith, Catarina Macario and Rose Lavelle adding assists of their own. Jane Campbell, making her sixth international start in goal, earned her fifth shutout.



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And every bit of that knowledge is useful since Hayes has just a month and one more dress rehearsal — Tuesday’s friendly with South Korea in St. Paul, Minn. — before she has to decide on an 18-player roster for next month’s Olympic Games in France.

“There’s no denying there is an unbelievable talent pool in this country. And selecting a group of players to represent this country is going to be a difficult one,” said Hayes, who pumped her right fist in celebration on the sidelines after each goal. “This is an opportunity to learn about the players.”

To accomplish that, Hayes’ first national team training camp has been filled with one-on-one meetings with each of the 27 players called in while practice sessions have been heavy on introducing the structural and tactical principles Hayes plans to employ.

Time, however, is short because Hayes, who was named national team coach last November, couldn’t assume the job until her contract with Chelsea of the Women’s Super League expired last month. That leaves her with a woefully short run-up to her first world championship tournament.

Emma Hayes' USWNT trust-building mission begins with debut win over South Korea (2)

U.S. forward Mallory Swanson, left, tangles with South Korea forward Choe Yuri during the first half of an international friendly Saturday.

(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

And revitalizing a flagging program that has gone nearly five years without a World Cup or Olympic title will require more than a quick fix. So Hayes is refusing to be rushed, insisting on installing a foundation before trying to construct a roster.


“It’s been about building trust. It’s been about making sure everybody understands what the expectations are,” said Hayes whose contract, reportedly worth $1.6 million annually, is the richest ever for a women’s soccer coach. “It’s a process and we’ve got to go one step at a time.”

It’s also a process that goes both ways because if Hayes is meeting many of her players for the first time, many of the players also knew little about their coach until last week. As a result, Macario, who played for Hayes in England this season, said players have been approaching her with questions about the new boss.

“Whenever my teammates come and ask me, ‘Did you guys do a similar thing at Chelsea?’ I can kind of give them some insight,” said Macario, who made her return to the national team after a 725-day absence following surgery to repair a ruptured ACL. “She’s definitely someone that you want to be coached by. She’s just an all-around winner and I do think she will help take us to the next level.”

And the players, Davidson said, were eager to put what Hayes had taught them to the test Saturday.

Emma Hayes' USWNT trust-building mission begins with debut win over South Korea (3)

U.S. women’s national team coach Emma Hayes waves to fans before Saturday’s international friendly win over South Korea.

(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

“With all this new information, we were really excited to try to implement things,” said Davidson, who had one international goal before Saturday. “I feel like we had information overload throughout the week and so we were excited to just see how it went throughout a game.

“You could tell that people were really antsy to get on the field and be able to connect.”

In France, getting to the next level would be one of the top two spots on the Olympic medal stand, heights the four-time World Cup and Olympic champions haven’t reached since striking gold in the 2012 London Games. The Americans were eliminated in the quarterfinals in the 2016 Rio Olympics and had to settle for bronze in Japan three years ago, after losing to Canada in the semifinals.

Couple that with the team’s exit from last summer’s World Cup in the round of 16 — the only time the U.S. has failed to make the tournament semifinals — and the U.S. has dropped to fourth in the FIFA world rankings for the first time. That leaves Hayes tasked with turning around a historic slide that led to coach Vlatko Andonovski’s resignation last August.

Yet she said the tools she needs to make that happen are already there.

“Listen, we all know the main ingredients of the American DNA. That will not change under my stewardship,” said Hayes, whose team passed exquisitely Saturday. “For me the most important thing has been their ability to grasp information really, really quickly and learn. No matter what we’ve thrown at them this week, they’re taking it on, they’re absorbing it.

Emma Hayes' USWNT trust-building mission begins with debut win over South Korea (4)


“This team is desperate to improve. And it’s focused on the performances and the processes to do that.”

Forward Alex Morgan, at 34 the oldest and most decorated player in Hayes’ first training camp, said the new coach has her own approach.

“She definitely brings some lightheartedness into situations when necessary. But she’s really excited and adamant about getting her point across,” said Morgan, who is playing under her sixth national team coach. “She’s demanding respect, but I think that’s mutual. She’s big on building trust and in [getting] feedback from players.”

Hayes didn’t just make a good first impression with her players during her first week, however. When she learned the women’s deaf national team, the reigning world champion, would also be playing Saturday, she asked U.S. Soccer staffer Allie Galoob to teach her to sign “Good luck, go team.”



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After practicing a few days, she delivered that message to the players after her Friday news conference and it worked with Fountain Valley’s Emily Spreeman, a former youth teammate of Morgan, scoring six times in an 11-0 win over Australia.

The six goals, the most by any American in an 11 vs. 11 senior international game, gave Spreeman 32 in 24 caps.

As for her own performance, Hayes, who left the field toting her 6-year-old son Harry, wearing a white No. 24 U.S. jersey, said getting the first game out of the way wasn’t something she worried about. Instead, it’s just a first step on a much longer road.

“I’m doing the job I love. I get to enjoy those amazing players. I don’t feel relief from that,” she said. “I just feel reenergized and want to coach this group and they want to be coached.

“You can see we’re building something. There’s lots of work to do, there’s lots of holes in our play, no question. But it was a good start.”

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Emma Hayes' USWNT trust-building mission begins with debut win over South Korea (2024)


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