Emma Hayes believes USWNT is ‘ready to move on’ from 2023 World Cup


ST. PAUL, Minnesota — For new United States women’s national team manager Emma Hayes, Week One on the job has been all about education — from introducing her process and principles to the team, to getting to know and building trust with her players.

One thing she’s learned so far? This is a group that “is ready to move on” from the 2023 World Cup.

“We always like to look at it externally, like these really fatal moments,” Hayes explained. “From my perspective, I don’t believe they could grow without that. You need those setbacks. Sometimes, on the biggest stage, it is not ideal, but the team wasn’t ready [for the moment].

“The expectations in this country is win — every game, every week, every tournament, every trophy. And it just isn’t going to work like that, I’m afraid. So we have to adapt a little bit to that. But for them, their learnings have been profound.”

Hayes was critical of the USWNT during the World Cup last summer while serving as an analyst — the Americans were shockingly eliminated in the round of 16, the squad’s earliest exit in major tournament history. Now she has the opportunity to start rehabilitating the program just in time for the next one — the Paris Olympics are less than two months away with the USWNT’s first match vs. Zambia on July 25.

Before Hayes can fully focus on that, she’s zoned in on this camp and set a baseline of understanding of her vision for the program. That was put on display Saturday when the U.S. cruised to a 4-0 win over South Korea in Hayes’ debut match from the sideline. Afterward, she said the team made steps in the right direction. Monday, she added that “there were probably less bumps than I anticipated.”

Entering her second match — a rematch vs. South Korea on Tuesday night here at Allianz Stadium — Hayes said to “expect multiple changes” to the lineup. She needs to see how every player has interpreted what they’ve learned in training and how that translates to a game before she can ultimately choose an 18-player Olympics roster. 

Some players process information more quickly than others – Hayes has talked this week about tired and overloaded brains as everyone gets exposed to so much new information. So she wants to give them all an equal opportunity to show what they can do.

“I think it’s important to manage expectations because while we are building off our first game as a whole group, some people are going to get their first that [Tuesday] and connections might be different,” Hayes said. “Those reference points might start again first before we can build to the next place.

“But I believe it’s essential because we need a squad to select first in the Olympics. So I need to know where everybody is at within that in terms of their understanding, then their application.”

From the outside, that may seem stressful. Tuesday marks the final match the team will play together before the roster drops. There are only 18 spots, two will go to goalkeepers, which leaves 16 available for field players. 

And no one feels 100% safe or certain that they will get called up. And that goes for the most capped and most experienced players in this camp.

“You never take this job for granted,” captain Lindsey Horan said. “I think everyone’s place is up for grabs. The competitive aspect on this team is incredible.”

“Anytime you’re in this environment, it’s almost like you’re in tryout mode,” Crystal Dunn said. “You don’t even have to acknowledge it, like, we’re all here trying to make the roster. We all get that.”

And that’s one task for the veteran leaders of this team — Hayes has singled out Horan, Dunn, Alex Morgan and Rose Lavelle as those voices. To help younger players not get overwhelmed by this moment.

“A lot of butterflies I think are happening right now,” Horan said. “We’re so team oriented, we’re so team focused, so I hope a lot of the stress from players gets taken away a bit because we just want to focus on us. 

“But in this process, you have to show yourself. You have to be your best you, and that’s my main point to [younger] players. We’re focusing on the team, we’re focusing on how we’re playing and preparing for the Olympics, and you go to your thing within that.” 

While the attention will be on who Hayes does and does not select for the Olympic team, it’s been clear all week that the USWNT is energized by Hayes’ perspective and what that means for the future.

“I think all of us are really thirsty for knowledge,” Lavelle said. “I think we’ve covered a lot in the past week, but it’s been exciting. I think we’re all really excited about this new era and what this team can do. I think we’ve all been very open to learning and growing. It’s been a lot of information, but it’s been great and we’re excited about it.”

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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