No doubt there needed to be a change in leadership after the United States women’s national soccer team’s disappointing round of 16 loss to Sweden in the World Cup. The team’s ranking has dropped from its long-held number-one position to third, and Vlatko Andonovski has seen his last summer as head coach of the women’s national team. 

The team’s struggles were obvious at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, but they still managed to capture a bronze medal. Yet Vlatko was still on the hot seat following the Tokyo Olympics loss, a number of questionable friendly performances and some eyebrow-raising roster choices.

The competition level is rising throughout the world, which some may point to as the reason for the USWNT’s struggle to compete. While women’s U.S. soccer fans would happily welcome healthy competition and encourage the rise of competition between countries, they also know their team very well. The vibes were off, as they say. 

The players maintained a professional profile and rarely let anything slip about team dynamics until some hinted at the lack of team synergy and preparation. The players’ words are golden, and they lit the signal for the ejection on management. Now the team will operate under interim head coach Twila Kilgore until two months before the Paris 2024 Olympics start. 

Almost three months after Andonovski stepped down, U.S. Soccer decided to hand the reigns to long-time Chelsea FC head coach Emma Hayes. 

Hayes will finish out the season with Chelsea in England before becoming the USWNT’s 10th head coach and the highest paid women’s soccer coach in the world. The estimated $1.6 million annual salary equals that of U.S. men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter. She will join the team in June to coach only four matches before heading to the Olympics. The quick turnaround is troubling, but the new hire is less of a concern. 


Her Career

Hayes started her career in the U.S. as head coach of the (amateur) Long Island Lady Riders. She was the youngest coach in the league, where she earned USWL Coach of the Season honors in 2002. After a stint at the helm of the Iona Gaels in the NCAA, she graduated to the professional level as an assistant coach for the Arsenal Ladies of the European Women’s Super League.

She returned Stateside in 2008 when she was appointed head coach to the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), but was fired in 2010 with 6-6-14 record. She didn’t take up another head coaching role until 2012, when she went back across the pond to take up her current position as head coach for the Chelsea FC women.

As head coach of Chelsea, Hayes has posted an impressive 237-40-58 record in 335 games. She’s lead Chelsea to six Super League titles, five Women’s FA cups, and two Women’s League cups. Chelsea made the Women’s Champions League final in 2021, when Hayes was named Coach of the Year. Hayes is widely regarded as one of the top coaches in the women’s game She has the accolades and the record of a winner, but does she have what the women’s national team needs?


What’s Her Strategy?

Hayes experienced the game play, culture and overall dynamics of U.S. women’s soccer throughout her career. She’s seen all levels of the game in the U.S. through her time with the amateur league, women’s college soccer and the NWSL. She’s been clear about what she thinks the USWNT needs. 

After the USWNT dropped out of the World Cup, Hayes wrote an opinion piece in the Telegraph about her thoughts on what went wrong for the U.S. women. In the piece, she takes a direct shot at the NWSL and the lack of diversity the U.S. soccer league offers. She also aimed her criticism at Andonovski and the previous management team. 

“Overall, I think America are massively short of creative talent,” she wrote. “When you’re playing against more well-organized teams, better-coached teams, you have to break them down, and that breaking teams down is a combination of strategy, tactics and personnel, and I don’t see that they’ve got the personnel to do that.”

Hayes is known for her holistic coaching method and being creative with her strategy. ESPN reported that Hayes even took into consideration her players’ menstrual cycles impacting recovery. Hayes will take a more personable approach than most coaches and actively invests in growing players individually. 


On the Pitch

While the defense holds strong for the U.S. women, the team struggles to use their midfielders and let players like Rose Lavelle work to feed the forwards. Hayes is no stranger to working with styles and, in fact, encourages flexibility and creativity in coaching. 

Even with her creative and personable approach with players, Hayes has no problem dropping players and overhauling the team if need be. Her Q&A with U.S. Soccer after being hired gave fans insight into Hayes’ cutthroat philosophy. 

“Nobody has a right to play on the team,” she said. “It has to be earned from day one, and I want to see those habits on and off the pitch from the players, and I look forward to setting them that challenge because I know for them it’s a huge honor to play for their country and it’s going to be my job to bring the best out of them and I look forward to that moment.”

Hayes means business, and her high standing in the coaching world is promising of a bright future for a new era of the USWNT. Her holistic approach that centers around growing the players may help mend the “vibes” and the lack of synergy for the team. As the whole of women’s soccer progresses, the USWNT needs to progress and many fans want the U.S. to continue to lead the charge. Emma Hayes has an arsenal of experience to evolve the USWNT’s game while having a roster of top tier talent at her disposal. Hayes’ ultimate arrival to the USWNT bench will be much anticipated, and her first tournament run as coach will be watched very closely.

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