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USWNT not feared by rest of world anymore – Emma Hayes

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NEW YORK — Emma Hayes has finally arrived, and the United States women’s national team’s new head coach faces a formidable task: She has two months to prepare the team to win an Olympic gold medal. Winning, as she knows, is the longtime standard for the USWNT.

But on Thursday, during a small media roundtable that included ESPN at the National Women’s Soccer League’s offices in Manhattan, Hayes stressed the importance of processes and performances.

“If we can perform at our best level, then we have a chance of doing things,” Hayes said. “But we’ve got work to do. The realities are that the world game is where it is, and the rest of the world do not fear the USA in the way that they once did and that’s valid.

“It’s our job to grasp quite quickly what we need to do to get close again to those levels.”

Hayes was critical of the USWNT as an analyst during last summer’s World Cup and said it would be difficult for the team to return to the top. The USWNT won back-to-back World Cups in 2015 and 2019, and four of the first eight editions of the tournament. At the 2023 World Cup, however, the Americans only narrowly got out of the group. Winning an Olympic gold medal for the first time since 2012 will be a tall order.

“Tell me a coach that isn’t critical? Tell me a coach that doesn’t want more?” Hayes said on Thursday. “I think what we saw last summer is how that gap has been closed. It doesn’t necessarily need a statement from me; that’s clear for everyone to see.

“I don’t always view them as a negative thing. I think sometimes you need something like that in life to serve as a reminder. I say all the time, ‘What got you here won’t get you there.'”

Hayes arrived in New York on Wednesday. She will meet with her coaching staff on Saturday in Denver, Colorado, to review plans, and players will begin arriving for training camp on Monday, thus ending the longest wait for a head coach in USWNT history.

Hayes was hired by U.S. Soccer in November to become the highest-paid women’s coach in the world, but the federation agreed to allow her to finish the European season with Chelsea, the club she built into one of the best in the world over the past 12 years.

She guided Chelsea to a fifth straight Women’s Super League title in dramatic fashion on Saturday, edging out Manchester City on goal difference on the league’s final day.

Twila Kilgore has served as interim USWNT coach since late August, working with Hayes since her hiring to implement the ideas that the new coach wants to see. Kilgore visited Hayes in England, in addition to numerous phone conversations.

All the tactical lessons and player evaluations have been in place for a long time, Hayes said on Thursday. She already has her schedules made for meetings and training sessions in June and July.

“There hasn’t been radio silence since [I was hired],” Hayes said. “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.”

Now, she needs to meet the players and understand who they are as people, and to build trust. Hayes stressed human interaction as one of the most important parts of coaching.

“I need to see it, feel it, be around it, get a sense of where the tactical understanding of everyone is at,” Hayes said. “And then between now and late June [when she picks the Olympic roster], looking at that group plus a wider group, plus the NWSL, and then determine which players are going to make an 18-player roster.”

Injuries create additional, immediate challenges for Hayes.

Longtime starting goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher will not be with the team after suffering a thigh injury in a recent NWSL game and was left off Hayes’ first U.S. roster.

Veteran striker Alex Morgan has been sidelined for the past month with an ankle injury, while Jaedyn Shaw recently picked up a knock during a National Women’s Soccer League game. Starting center-backs Naomi Girma and Tierna Davidson have also struggled with injuries over the past month.

All four of those players are on the roster that will assemble next week for two games against South Korea — the final two matches before Hayes names her Olympic roster.

“This is liberating for me,” Hayes said on Thursday. “I feel re-energized, excited, and hopefully the experiences I’ve learned in the 12, 14 years I’ve been out of the country, I can sort of bring the best version of myself to the job that requires it. I’m relaxed about it, but I’m also really excited.”

The U.S. team won four of the first five editions of the Olympic women’s soccer tournament, but failed to win a medal for the first time in 2016 before returning to the podium at Tokyo 2020 where they took bronze.

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