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New USWNT boss Emma Hayes: ‘There’ll be some tired brains this week’

Chelsea manager Emma Hayes waves to the crowd.
Photo Copyright Tom Phillips for SPP

Just a few days into the job, new U.S. women’s national team head coach Emma Hayes is already impressed with what she’s seen in training sessions this week out of her first 23-player roster — or, as she called them when addressing the media on Friday ahead of the first of two friendlies against Korea, a group of “unbelievable sponges.” 

“There’ll be some tired brains, for sure,” Hayes said in a press conference from Commerce City, Colo. “But it’s been a really, really good training week. Little by little, I don’t do fast friends. I want us to build the right things in the right moments.” 

Two of the players named to the USWNT roster for the international friendlies — captain Lindsey Horan and defender Naomi Girmaalluded Thursday to adjustments Hayes is looking to see from the team, things the new coach slowly started implementing over the last several months through the USWNT’s interim staff while she was still with Chelsea. Hayes and the players have been tight lipped about the specifics, but the new boss has not been quiet about her expectation that the players show her they can adapt and grow.

Hayes, who ended her tenure with the Blues earlier this month with a fifth-consecutive Women’s Super League title, emphasized Friday that how the players absorb and execute on her adjustments encompasses much of what she has been watching for this week in training as the team prepares for Saturday’s match. For Hayes, it’s also an ability to observe how the players do that under some pressure. There is a chance to represent the U.S. at this summer’s Olympics on the line, after all.

Hayes outlined her camp objectives from this week as threefold: introducing her structural principles of play, building trust and “making sure everybody understands what the expectations are.” And while she says the players’ tactical understanding has exceeded her initial assumptions, the most important thing to her remains their ability to learn new information — and to do so quickly.

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Saturday’s friendly at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park marks the team’s first match under Hayes; a second will follow in Saint Paul, Minn. next week on June 4. Then, the countdown to Paris begins with the 2024 Olympic Games slated to start in July.

“It’s a process and we’ve got to go one step at a time,” she said. “This is an opportunity, as I’ve said before, to learn about the players, learn about their tactical understanding, see where their technique is at the top level, expose them to a strategic set up that prepares us for tomorrow, first and foremost, and get the players to understand the most important things that are required at the top, top level. The players learning has been unbelievable this week. Their attention to detail, their thirst for knowledge, their application […] We all know they’re competitive, but they’ve been incredibly studious all week.” 

Fans will have to wait to see the changes the new coach asked the team to learn this week and for the unveiling of her longer-term plan for the USWNT’s play, but the shifts will build upon the tweaks in place through interim head coach Twila Kilgore over the last six months. Those were the foundational building blocks of Hayes’ approach; the differences she’ll look to see now, she says, are in the details.

“We all know the main ingredients of the American DNA, and that will not change under my stewardship,” Hayes said. “No matter what we’ve thrown at them this week, they’re taking it on, they’re absorbing it. This team is desperate to improve, and it’s focused on the performances and the processes to do that.”

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