Each year, the National Women’s Soccer League Draft serves as the unofficial start to the new season. Its position on the calendar in the first weeks of January helps with that designation, but like the New Year itself, the draft offers hope of new beginnings to teams and the league at large.
Friday’s NWSL Draft in Anaheim, Calif., kicks off a busy 2024 in women’s soccer. The NWSL continues to be in a transformative era, the United States women’s national team is at its most crucial inflection point so far as Emma Hayes enters the scene, and the 2027 World Cup host will be decided. Oh, and there’s an Olympics to be played, on top of several confederation trophies on the line.
Women’s soccer is truly in a place where each year feels bigger than the one that just ended. With that in mind, these are the major stories to watch in 2024, with a specific lens on the United States.
The USWNT’s new era under Emma Hayes
How drastic will change be under Emma Hayes? Will a full overhaul of the team need to wait, considering she won’t arrive full-time as coach until late May or June? There is a strong dichotomy between excitement over U.S. Soccer making a spectacular hire, and the short-term awkwardness of a head coach who is in charge but not yet fully present. Many look at the hire as a concession of the 2024 Olympics with the long-term goal of winning the 2027 World Cup. That’s a fair take, but it should be noted that there is enough talent in the U.S. pool to make a run at another medal in France this summer.
Hayes comes with a respected reputation both as a tactical savant and a people manager. She is also known for not taking any crap and communicating directly, all of which are things the U.S. could use right now. The 2023 World Cup was a disaster, a confirmation that the Americans’ place atop the world pecking order had eroded. Hayes is tasked with getting them back to the top. Assistant and interim coach Twila Kilgore will quietly play an important role in implementing Hayes’ plans in the months prior to the coach’s arrival.
In 15 years of covering this team, this is the most precarious position I’ve seen it in. How will the team respond? Who will emerge as the new leadership group? Which players will Hayes (re)build around? What happens this year will be the foundation for 2027, for better or worse.
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