Home Sports USWNT coach Emma Hayes arrives in America with her work cut out ahead of Paris Olympics

USWNT coach Emma Hayes arrives in America with her work cut out ahead of Paris Olympics

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Chelsea manager Emma Hayes celebrates with the trophy after winning the English Women's Super League soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Martin Rickett/PA via AP)

NEW YORK – Emma Hayes looked out the window of a third-floor conference room overlooking Madison Avenue, across the bustling city where her coaching career first blossomed, and suddenly memories flooded back.

She was flooded Wednesday upon arrival at Newark Liberty International Airport. They flowed again as Hayes navigated crowded streets and strolled through Central Park, for the first time as head of the U.S. women’s national team. “It’s my home,” she said.

He recalled arriving in New York when he was 20, with $1,000 plus a backpack full of clothes and a job on soccer fields on Long Island. He jumped from Port Washington to Manhattan, from the shadow of the Throgs Neck Bridge to Westchester. She traveled throughout the region, even as far as Rhode Island, as an anonymous Brit looking for a foothold in the sport she loved. She remembers “struggling to stay in the country with different visas.” She remembers worrying about rent. And she remembers dreaming, dreaming of climbing the ladder, perhaps all the way to the helm of the USWNT, which, at the time, was at the top of women’s soccer.

Some 23 years later, she is here, in part because the USWNT is no longer there.

He’s fallen off the top of the mountain and Hayes has been hired, on an unprecedented contract, to get him back up again.

So there is very little time left to remember. “We have work to do,” Hayes said Thursday, 40 minutes into a roundtable with reporters, when asked about immediate expectations. “The reality is… the rest of the world no longer fears the United States like they used to. … Our job is to understand, pretty quickly, what we have to do to get closer to (championship) levels again.”

Former Chelsea coach Emma Hayes brings a winning history to the USWNT. (Martin Rickett/PA via AP)

Hayes has been doing that work “in the background” for months, speaking with USWNT interim coach Twila Kilgore “on many long, late-night calls” in London. “I feel like I’ve been able to get to know the job quietly without being in it,” she said Thursday, “quietly” out of respect for Chelsea, who, until Sunday, remained his full-time employer.

But he’s been watching NWSL games and clips of individual players. For Kilgore, he has been nurturing “changes” and “ideas that he wanted to incorporate.” When he talks about the USWNT’s evolution in recent months, he uses first-person plural phrases, such as “what we’ve done so far.”

Work, however, will begin in earnest on Friday. Hayes will fly to Colorado to meet with her staff, which she has carefully selected and molded. At least five Chelsea assistants He will follow her to America and join Kilgore. Bart Caubergh, previously Chelsea’s head of performance, will take on a new role that Hayes pushed to create in conversations with US Soccer sporting director Matt Crocker: “program director” of the USWNT.

“What I’ve learned over the years doing this is that you have two different teams,” Hayes explained. “You have the team on the field and you have the team off the field. And it is extremely difficult for a coach to manage both.”

Caubergh will be responsible for the latter. “He’ll work with operations, performance, analytics, technical, even the medical, all the departments, just to make sure we’re coordinated,” Hayes said.

In many ways, they have already been coordinating. “All the preparation for May camp is done,” Hayes said. “All (training) sessions are planned. The entire June agenda is planned, in terms of our meetings, our meeting points. “July is planned.”

What he hasn’t been able to do, however, is train.

“Now,” he said with a clap on Thursday, “it’s about being with the players.”

“It’s a bit of an exaggeration,” he said later with a smile. “I know the staff, the team and the structure behind it. We have all that. Now is the time: I need to be with the team.”

He needs to do what he couldn’t from afar, on and off the court, when he begins his first training camp on Monday. He has scheduled individual meetings with the players to get to know them as humans. He also hopes to see, “feel” and “get a feel” for their skills and “tactical understanding.”

But he will have to do all that in the middle of a whirlwind. He will live on the road until he finally moves to Atlanta, where US Soccer is building a national training center that is not yet finished. He’ll hold his first training camp next week in Denver and Minneapolis, and then? “Getting ready for the Olympics,” he said. Where? “Probably a combination of places. … To be determined.”

Of course, those Olympic Games are two months away. Hayes will have to name her 18-woman squad after just two friendlies and half a dozen training sessions. She will have another camp and two more friendlies in July. She will then fly to France and, as a journalist told her on Thursday, “The fans’ expectations for this team have always been”

Hayes smiled and interrupted the reporter. “No,” he shouted, with every ounce of sarcasm he could muster. “It’s not, is it?”

The expectation, “of course,” is for the USWNT to win it all.

When asked if that’s realistic in 2024, Hayes was ambiguous. “I’ll never tell anyone not to dream of winning,” he said. “But… we have to take it step by step and focus on all the little processes that need to happen so we can perform at our best level.”

He said he will use his first camp to analyze the state of the team and then ask himself, “What gap can I absolutely close between now and the Olympics?”

But he knows he will have to “be realistic about it.”

Because you will need time, time you really won’t have before Paris. For now, when asked about his tactical approach, she said: “I have to keep it simple. …Make sure you convey the right messages. And over time we will evolve.”

He will also need energy, and his supply, he admitted, had run out at Chelsea, the club he built “from nothing” into England’s five-time reigning champions. It had “taken its toll,” he said Saturday. He reiterated on Thursday: “Working at Chelsea took me a lifetime for the last 12 years.”

But leaving, he said, was like “taking a big stone off your shoulders.” Twelve years, one place, leading much of women’s football in England, is liberating for me. “I feel revitalized, excited.”

So she just needed one day off: Sunday, when she hosted a Star Wars-themed birthday party for her 6-year-old son Harry.

Now she’s inspired, “because it’s not often that dreams come true,” as she said Thursday.

Now that he’s done it, he said, “I’m going to give absolutely everything I have to make sure we uphold the traditions of this team.”

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