USWNT coach Emma Hayes welcomes challenge of transitioning from club to country


Emma Hayes is not concerned about this transition. She built a perennial power in Chelsea over the past 12 years, and now takes over the most decorated women’s soccer program in the world, the four-time World Cup winning United States women’s national team.

It’s a new environment with new players, but on a fundamental level, there’s not a major discrepancy in her approach to going from club to country.

“I think it’s the same as anybody who goes from one organization to another, right?” Hayes told a group of reporters during a round table discussion in New York City last week. “It’s football. At the end of the day, it’s 11 vs. 11.”

This is an international job, so there will, of course, be things that are different. But some of that, she welcomes. For example, Hayes told reporters after Chelsea won its fifth straight Women’s Super League title a few weeks ago that she “categorically cannot carry on” with the cadence of coaching the club. For 12 years, she drove four hours round trip from her home to the training grounds, which was tough with a six-year-old son. With the USWNT, the quality of life element certainly comes into play.

“I don’t have to deal with the intensity of a game every three days, which can be excruciating,” Hayes said. “I think preparing a national team, there’s bigger periods in between, so there’s not as much time with the players on the grass, but more preparing for those opportunities and then just maximizing the time we have together. 

“I’m spending time speaking to coaches that have made those transitions to learn the best practices and understand the differences. But I don’t know. It might be the same for you leaving your current employer and going down the road and working for someone else. [There are] going to be institutional differences, and I’m very open to what I need to pick up.”

Hayes and the team are in Denver now preparing for her first matches, which are against Korea Republic on Saturday and Tuesday. The Paris Olympics are less than two months away and this is the final camp before Hayes names her 18-player roster. 

While it may feel like there’s insurmountable work to be done before the Games begin, Hayes has been preparing for this camp – with the help of her staff and former interim head coach Twila Kilgore – for some time. Hayes said “processes and jobs required to be done have already been set out and agreed upon” and that she already has schedules planned out for the months of June and July.

“Everybody is clear what’s going on,” Hayes said, after explaining that, “it hasn’t been radio silence [since she was hired in November].

“I feel like I’ve been able to quietly get to know the job without being in the job. And I think that’s really helped. Like every little detail, whether it’s processes on game day to how they operate in the hotel to what kit they wear, all this little stuff that you don’t think is really big, but when I go into camp, I know all these things.”

Hayes knows players have been operating in a state of uncertainty for the past six months while she’s been pulling double duty coaching Chelsea and keeping an eye on the USWNT. So her first message to the team this week when everyone convened in Colorado was to ease that anxiety and give them an update and a timeline of what’s to come ahead of a busy summer. 

She’s also making it a point to have one-on-one meetings with each player this week to get to know them. Some already know her, like Catarina Macario, who plays for Chelsea and has spoken about feeling valued by Hayes while she rehabbed an injury. Mia Fishel, who is currently out due to an ACL injury, told FOX Sports in December that Hayes is the reason she wanted to play for Chelsea.

Captain Lindsey Horan said Thursday that she’s had a few chats with Hayes, but most of all there’s an overall feeling of relief to have Hayes on American soil.

“It’s different when someone’s actually here and in the scenes and not behind the scenes,” Horan said.

“I think all those things that we’ve been trying to do the past few months, you get here and you hear it from Emma herself and the things that she really wants and it kind of all starts clicking in your head. You’re taking information and you’re trying to do your best and I think the last few days, that’s something I’ve seen. There’s a clear intention with what we’re trying to do in this process and it’s super exciting to see.”

Hayes would love nothing more than to lead the U.S. to its first Olympic gold medal since 2012. She’s followed this program for a long time – in fact, this has long been her dream job — and she understands that the fans’ expectation is for this team to win everything. But is that realistic in 2024? Success doesn’t happen overnight — or even in two months. Hayes has her eyes looking further down the road at the 2027 World Cup and beyond.

“It’s like when people say, ‘Do you look at the league table?'” Hayes said. “And I’m like, ‘Why?’ It’s where we are at the end that really, really matters. It’s not whether we’re first, second or third today. It’s irrelevant.

“Are the USA at their best possible position today? No. But it’s about where we finish when we need to that matters to me. I want to focus on that instead of, ‘Where are we in our world rankings? Where are we in comparison to Spain?’ Now, where are we compared to our best version of ourselves? What gap can I absolutely close between now and the Olympics? And be realistic about it and focus on ourselves.”

Hayes won big at club level. And it’s clear she expects to do the same with the USWNT. 

“It’s liberating for me,” Hayes said. “I feel re-energized. Hopefully, the experiences I’ve learned in the 12-14 years I’ve been out of the country I can bring the best version of myself to a job that requires it. I’m relaxed about it. But I’m also really, really excited.”

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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