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Emma Hayes called out USWNT issues during 2023 World Cup

Emma Hayes is coaching rising USWNT star Mia Fishel with Chelsea during the 2023-24 Women's Super League season. (John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Emma Hayes is set to become the next head coach of the U.S. women’s national team, but she is not blind to issues within the program.

After the USWNT’s historic exit from the 2023 World Cup, plenty of people had plenty to say. Among them was Hayes, who wrote an opinion piece for The Telegraph newspaper in which she called out the problems with the development system, which have helped leave the team “massively short of creative talent.”

In the aftermath of the USWNT’s Round of 16 elimination, head coach Vlatko Andonovski resigned, which led to a three-month search for his replacement. Hayes has emerged as the heir apparent, with U.S. Soccer’s board of directors meeting over the weekend to approve the hiring.

Hayes’ critical take on the USWNT in August shows she can at least chart a course to bring the team back to its traditional dominance. Yes, she recognizes the change in the world order of the women’s game – and the reality that the USWNT may never be as dominant again.

Yet that doesn’t mean the team cannot return to form. As Hayes noted in her op-ed, the problems didn’t happen overnight, and neither will the solutions.

“They seem to me like a team that is very stressed, but it is also important to point out that the pressure on the U.S. is greater than any other nation,” she wrote. “They have won for so long that everybody just expects them to win. I know first hand at Chelsea how challenging that is, to keep winning again and again.

“My feeling is that the U.S. as a nation will have to adapt its expectations around international success in women’s football. It is not that the team are necessarily failing, and it is not just about this team or this coach. For the U.S., there needs to be a bigger conversation about their collegiate system and youth development as well as the NWSL.”

She points out that the U.S. hasn’t won a FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in 11 years and has not made it out of the group stage since 2016. The U.S. youth program has never won the U-17 World Cup.

Hayes also noted the shift away from the U.S. college system of player development, with more players turning to the professional ranks at early ages. So players from Europe likely will stay at home with their clubs rather than traveling across the Atlantic to play in the NCAA.

She even turned her critical eye on the NWSL.

“There’s still a huge amount of talent in this U.S. team, but with so many of the squad playing solely in the NWSL, it doesn’t offer enough diversity to their squad in terms of playing against different styles,” she wrote. “Here in Europe, where you’re playing in different competitions, Champions League or cups, players aren’t going to be fazed by other things because they come up against different football week in, week out.

“What always stood apart for the Americans, for me, from when I worked in the U.S. was their magnificent mentality: They were always winners. … Still, mentality alone is not enough to win anymore. Not with the improvements the rest of the world has been making since the last World Cup.”

These systemic problems have left the USWNT “massively short of creative talent,” Hayes wrote. She cited OL Reign and USWNT midfielder Rose Lavelle as one player who has that creativity, though “she’s not always given the platform that a No. 10 would be here in Europe.”

“It is not just about this group of players, though; it is the whole structure,” Hayes concluded. “The realities are, it is going to be very, very difficult for the US to climb back to the top. I’m not saying they won’t, with hard work and the right conversations around their model. They will have to respond to this World Cup. Maybe that response would have been greater had they been knocked out in the group stages – sometimes you have to fail, to then see change for the better.”