The USWNT’s first match of the Emma Hayes era went off with a bang as the team beat South Korea 4-0 on Saturday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado.

In the game, forward Mallory Swanson had a brace, scoring her first two goals for the US since returning from a torn patellar tendon suffered last April. Defender Tierna Davidson also found the back of the net twice, with both goals coming off set pieces.

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"Thirty percent of all tournament goals are scored from (set pieces), so it was an opportunity," Hayes told reporters after the game. "I’ve seen, historically, this program be good at it. I want to return to that, so we have to excel. And for me, that demand won’t decline."

The match also saw the return of Catarina Macario to the starting lineup for the first time since 2022. Macario has slowly been returning to action following an ACL tear, and had a hand in one of Davidson’s set piece goals on Saturday.

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Despite the USWNT's success, there was one glaring omission from Saturday's lineup: Alex Morgan remained on the bench, with Hayes noting that she chose to rest the decorated forward as a precaution.

"[Morgan] felt yesterday — this is an important issue to raise — maybe stretching a little bit her pelvic area," she said. "I told her yesterday I'm not going to take any risks today, because I want her to play Tuesday."

As the team looks to cut the roster down to 18 players in preparation for July's Paris Olympics, a lot will have to be decided. But with her first game as head coach in the books, Hayes is looking confidently to the future.

"I don’t feel relief. I feel re-energized," Hayes said. "I want to coach this group and they want to be coached. You can see we’re building something.

"There’s lots of work to do. There’s lots of holes in our play, no question, but it was a good start."

USWNT and Chelsea star Catarina Macario is back on grass and training in cleats.

After Chelsea women posted a photo of Macario in warm weather training, Macario wrote that she is “Happy to be back on the field” in response.

It’s a welcome sign for Chelsea and U.S. women’s national team fans everywhere, after Macario’s status remained in limbo late into 2023. The star midfielder tore her ACL with Lyon in the Women’s Champions League final back in June of 2022.

In November, Chelsea coach and soon-to-be USWNT manager Emma Hayes said that it was unlikely Macario would make her return in 2023. Interim USWNT head coach Twila Kilgore had said earlier that month that Macario was “integrating at Chelsea” but wasn’t yet ready for international minutes.

“When you’ve been out a long time, this isn’t about me withholding something, this is about the recognition that – with all the will in the world – you can’t just put a player on the grass with a knee history, and sometimes if the knee blows up, you then have to come back off it again,” Hayes told Forbes.

Macario signed with Chelsea in June of 2023, but has yet to compete for the WSL club. Earlier this week, Hayes said that she was excited to finally include Macario – as well as forward Maika Hamano – in the lineup. And it comes at the right time, as star forward Sam Kerr tore her ACL in training and will be out for the remainder of the season.

“Cat and Maika are going to feel like new signings for us,” Hayes said. “That’s why we built the squad like this. We knew there would be more games coming in the second half of the season.”

Chelsea head coach Emma Hayes said on Friday that Catarina Macario is unlikely to play until 2024, as she continues to recover from an ACL injury suffered in June 2022.

Hayes, who will begin her coaching duties with the U.S. women’s national team in May, recruited Macario to her club from Olympique Lyonnais in July. Hayes has never fielded Macario in a match due to the ACL rupture.

Hayes has described Macario as “one of the most intelligent, creative attacking players in the world.” And while Hayes’ tenure at Chelsea is coming to an end, she’ll still get to coach Macario during the 2024 Olympics in Paris as part of the USWNT, as long as the forward is healthy.

Macario is set to become a staple of the USWNT’s attack after multiple players have hung up their boots in recent years, including Megan Rapinoe.

But Macario has been sidelined since last summer, and Hayes believes it’s best not to rush her back to the pitch.

“When you’ve been out a long time, this isn’t about me withholding something, this is about the recognition that – with all the will in the world – you can’t just put a player on the grass with a knee history, and sometimes if the knee blows up, you then have to come back off it again,” Hayes told Forbes.

Macario is unlikely to appear for Chelsea until after the New Year, and there is no specific timetable for her return.

Olympique Lyonnais and U.S. women’s national team midfielder Lindsey Horan wants to see more of her U.S. teammates playing in international leagues.

Horan is one of just three current USWNT players outside of the NWSL, with Catarina Macario and Mia Fishel playing under new USWNT head coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Horan has played for Lyon since 2022 after joining the club on loan from the Portland Thorns. She also spent time with Paris Saint-Germain from 2012 to 2016.

The 29-year-old midfielder was the lone player on the USWNT’s World Cup roster who played for a European club, with the other 22 playing in the NWSL.

Macario used to play alongside Horan at Lyon before joining Chelsea in the offseason. Fishel, meanwhile, joined Chelsea from Liga MX’s Tigres. Several USWNT stars, including Alex Morgan, have played for European clubs in the past, and several players have expressed interest in moving abroad in the future, Horan told Pro Soccer Wire.

“I’ve heard of [American] players wanting to [move to Europe],” Horan said. “Obviously, it’s comfortable in the NWSL and I won’t take anything away from the league, but for me, [playing abroad] has always been a growing point in my career. When I went to PSG, it was massive for me and then coming back to Lyon was even a bigger jump. I get to play with some of the best international players in the world.”

For Horan, the opportunity to play in the UEFA Women’s Champions League is unlike anything available in the NWSL — though Gotham FC’s Esther González recently said that every NWSL game is at the level of the Champions League.

“It’s not a knock on the NWSL, but you’re just not going and playing in the Champions League,” Horan said. “That’s something that I missed out on when I was at Portland because it’s just insane.”

Players moving to European leagues could become more common under the newly-minted USWNT coach, as Hayes has spent 12 years with Chelsea.

“There is still a huge amount of talent in this U.S. team,” Hayes wrote in a column for The Telegraph during the World Cup. “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.”

Horan would like to see more USWNT players expand their playing horizons.

“It’s just a different kind of exposure that you get, a different level that you get,” Horan said. “I really hope that there’s more, especially younger players, that want to go overseas.”

The timeline for Catarina Macario’s return to soccer remains up in the air.

The 24-year-old midfielder has not played in the almost 18 months since she tore her ACL in a league match for Lyon in June 2022. She signed with Chelsea in the offseason but has yet to make her debut with the Blues.

And Macario has been left off the 24-player squad for the UEFA Champions League group stage. The 16-team group stage kicks off on Nov. 14 and runs through Jan. 31.

Led by soon-to-be U.S. coach Emma Hayes, Chelsea will face Real Madrid in their first of six group-stage matches at 3 p.m. ET on Nov. 15. Chelsea and Real Madrid are in Group D with Häcken and Paris FC.

Should Chelsea reach the knockout stage, which begins in March, the Blues could add Macario to the roster. But it remains unclear when Macario will return to the field.

U.S. women’s national team interim head coach provided an update on Macario’s status in October, saying that the midfielder is still in recovery.

 

“Cat is integrating at Chelsea, she’s just not ready for international minutes yet,” Kilgore said. “We’re collaborating with them in terms of keeping in touch and making sure she has everything she needs, but she’s just not ready for international minutes yet.

“She’s just continuing on her timeline there and we trust the people that she’s working with and that she’s entrusted herself to. Things seem to be moving along well.”

While Sophia Smith and Becky Sauerbrunn returned from injury for the U.S. women’s national team roster, several big names remain out for the October friendlies against Colombia.

Tierna Davidson

The 25-year-old defender received a kick to the face in the Chicago Red Stars’ Sept. 30 match against Racing Louisville. She missed the team’s final two matches of the regular season, and she is not ready for international minutes, USWNT interim head coach Twila Kilgore said Wednesday.

“That contact to the face was pretty severe,” Kilgore said. “She’s recovering and moving forward.”

Rose Lavelle

The 28-year-old midfielder has played intermittently since picking up a leg injury in April. She joined the USWNT at the 2023 World Cup but made just two appearances upon her return to the NWSL — and none since Sept. 3. She’s played just four NWSL matches total in 2023.

Following OL Reign’s win Sunday in their final regular season match, Laura Harvey said that Lavelle would be available only if her team really needed her.

“Rose was sort of there if we desperately needed her to be there, and thankfully we didn’t,” OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey said Sunday. “I know she was still running (on the field) after the game so that we can keep her ticking over in preparation for Friday.”

Kilgore echoed that sentiment Wednesday.

“Both players [Lavelle and Davidson] aren’t ready for international minutes,” she said. “We’re also being very careful with protecting players. Rose is making progress, just not ready for this event.”

Catarina Macario

Macario has not played in a competitive match since tearing her ACL last June, and she hasn’t featured for the USWNT since last April. The 24-year-old midfielder signed with Chelsea in June, and she has been settling in with her new club in the Women’s Super League. But she has yet to play in a game in the WSL through the first three matches of the season.

“Cat is integrating at Chelsea, she’s just not ready for international minutes yet,” Kilgore said. “We’re collaborating with them in terms of keeping in touch and making sure she has everything she needs, but she’s just not ready for international minutes yet.

“She’s just continuing on her timeline there and we trust the people that she’s working with and that she’s entrusted herself to. Things seem to be moving along well.”

Kelley O’Hara

The 35-year-old defender is out with a lower leg injury. She made the World Cup roster but played just nine minutes in the tournament. Since her return to the NWSL, she has played in three matches for Gotham FC, most recently seven minutes as a substitute on Oct. 1.

While she initially was named to the USWNT’s September roster, she was replaced ahead of the friendlies against South Africa. At the time, the USWNT said in a release that the defender’s “return to play has been slower than anticipated and she will remain with her club to continue her progression to full fitness.”

Mallory Swanson

Swanson has remained out since tearing the patellar tendon in her left knee during an April friendly against Ireland. While she has been seen practicing with the Chicago Red Stars, the 25-year-old forward continues to rehab her injury.

The U.S. women’s national team’s next generation is ready for their moment.

Several young players, including Sophia Smith and Naomi Girma, as well as Trinity Rodman and Ashley Sanchez, already have been with the USWNT over the last year, honing their skills. Now the retirements of Megan Rapinoe and Julie Ertz have left holes in the roster, and even more up-and-comers are stepping in to fill them.

“It’s a privilege to first of all be on this team and to be able to play,” said Mia Fishel, who made her debut with the senior national team on Sunday. “But to play alongside Megan Rapinoe and being training this whole week is just like a dream come true. So I try to soak it in as much as possible and apply as much as I can in the field.”

The 22-year-old forward enjoyed her experience in the September camp – in just the second senior call-up of her career – despite the long flight from London to Cincinnati. She and Catarina Macario, 23, are playing together for Chelsea in the upcoming WSL season. And while Macario is recovering from an ACL injury, they could play together for club and country in the near future.

“I tried to get as quick as possible with the group because I missed the training,” Fishel said of the USWNT camp. “But it was all positive vibes. … I feel like this new group has new energy after the World Cup and we’re ready to go.”

Jaedyn Shaw, 18, joined World Cup forward Alyssa Thompson, 18, as one of two teenagers on the September roster. And while Shaw didn’t earn a cap in her first call-up, she still made waves.

“I don’t really surround myself with hype, or whatever, that is attached to my name or how I play,” Shaw told the Inquirer. “I think that I just, up to this point — and will continue to do it — just focus on myself and focus on my journey, and just try to learn as much as I can, and enjoy this experience.”

She also looked at the call-up as an opportunity to grow in an environment full of encouragement. After all, she’s got San Diego Wave teammates Girma and Alex Morgan alongside her. And both see what Shaw can bring to the USWNT.

“When we signed [Shaw] mid-season last year, she immediately came in and was a great professional at 17 years old, so much more mature than for her age,” Morgan told the Inquirer. “The goals she scored and the composure that she had in front of goal — you kind of knew right from the start after those first few weeks that she was going to have a long career, not only in the NWSL but hopefully with the national team as well.”

Morgan’s World Cup co-captain Lindsey Horan also is excited to see more of Shaw in the future.

“The more training sessions that we have, we’ll see more and more,” Horan said. “I’ve heard such incredible things. I wish NWSL games were better times for me in France [where she plays for Lyon], because I could probably give you a better answer right now. But I’ve heard nothing but the best, and the little bits that I’ve seen, it’s really cool.”

Catarina Macario and Mia Fishel are fitting right in at Chelsea.

Although the pair are still learning the pronunciations of London’s Tube stations, their connection has brought them from the San Diego Surf youth soccer club all the way to one of the game’s biggest stages: the English Women’s Super League.

Emerging stars for the U.S. women’s national team, Macario and Fishel already have turned their names into a portmanteau — “Catfish” — and are looking forward to connecting on the pitch for club and country.

They’re set to help Chelsea defend the WSL title for a fifth straight season. And while they’re the biggest American names in the WSL right now, they’re not the first USWNT players to make the leap across the pond. Alex Morgan, Rose Lavelle, Tobin Heath and Christen Press all played England in past seasons.

“They’ve always praised how intense the WSL is, how competitive it is,” Macario told the Daily Mail. “They’ve also told us where to go to buy some nice winter coats!”

Macario and Fishel come to Chelsea from different professional clubs, Macario from 2022 Champions League winners Olympique Lyonnais and Fishel from Liga MX’s Tigres UANL.

Fishel finished 2022 as Liga MX’s leading scorer, and the 22-year-old forward believes the environment in the Mexican league pushed her to be a better player.

“I decided to trust myself and go to another league [from the NWSL] which was an amazing experience. A new culture, a new language, and the best team in Mexico,” she told the Daily Mail. “I had like seven or eight national team players from Mexico on my team. It was a great environment that pushed me. I was able to flourish there.”

The 2023-24 WSL season kicks off Sunday, with Chelsea facing off in a London derby against Tottenham. While Fishel is set to compete right away alongside star players including Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby, Macario still is making her way back from an ACL tear. And while the 23-year-old midfielder is hoping to be back soon, she isn’t in any rush.

“It’s taken a little bit longer than I’d hoped for anyone would have expected,” Macario said. “One reason why I chose to go to Chelsea, Emma (Hayes) really focuses on doing the little things off the field. I feel like she has created a culture, not only on the pitch but off the pitch and really taking care of her players – not pressuring them to come back earlier than what they’re supposed to. I’m really happy where I am right now, I really trust the medical team here.”

The U.S. women’s national team is missing several big names for its first matches after the 2023 World Cup.

The roster for the September training camp features 21 of the 23 players who made up the World Cup team in Australia and New Zealand. The two players absent? Sophia Smith and Kristie Mewis, both of whom are out with injuries.

Smith, the lone USWNT player nominated for this year’s Ballon d’Or, sustained a mild MCL sprain at the end of August in her second match back with the Portland Thorns after the international tournament. She had scored in her first game back and leads the NWSL with 11 goals this season.

The 23-year-old forward also was one of the team’s leading scorers Down Under, along with midfielder Lindsey Horan. Smith and Horan had two goals each; no one else on the USWNT found the back of the net during the disappointing World Cup run.

The absence from the September camp marks Smith’s second time missing friendlies this year for the USWNT. She missed the January camp in New Zealand with a foot injury.

Mewis, meanwhile, is out with a lower leg injury. The 32-year-old midfielder has not played since the World Cup and reportedly has yet to return to training with Gotham FC. USWNT staff declined to provide any additional information on the injury, saying it was up to Mewis and Gotham FC.

“Kristie is progressing really well,” interim head coach Twila Kilgore said. “She’s also in her home environment, working on return to play. And when she’s able to return to play and do that in her home environment, we would be looking at potentially bringing her in again in the future.”

Also not on the roster is Catarina Macario, who still is recovering from an ACL tear suffered in June 2022. She signed a three-year deal with Chelsea this June, and she has been training with the English club since August.

“Cat is still in recovery. She’s working on her return to play in her home environment at Chelsea,” Kilgore said. “She’s done a really good job. And we’re looking forward to potentially having her back in the squad in the future.”

A number of U.S. women’s national team stars missed out on the 2023 World Cup due to injury, and the team felt their absence on the pitch.

What is the status for these injured players? And when could they return to the USWNT?

Becky Sauerbrunn

The 38-year-old defender missed what would have been her fourth World Cup due to a foot injury she suffered in April. After being left off the USWNT roster, she was upfront about the injury, noting that while a World Cup return would have been “possible,” doctors warned that it would be “aggressive” for her to get back in time.

Sauerbrunn has continued to rehab the injury and intends to return this season for the NWSL’s Portland Thorns. She also could rejoin the USWNT for its September friendlies against South Africa, although no updates have been given on her status.

Mallory Swanson

Swanson tore the patellar tendon in her left knee during an April friendly against Ireland, ruling her out for the World Cup. Her surgery went well, and Swanson even said that she felt as though she might defy the odds to make the summer tournament.

Ultimately, the 25-year-old forward wasn’t fit for the trip to Australia and New Zealand. But Swanson has been seen doing rehab recently, and even getting in a couple of touches in July. “Recovery has been good,” she told Just Women’s Sports.

Still, there is no update as to when Swanson could return, although the typical timeline for recovery from such an injury is six months.

Abby Dahlkemper

Dahlkemper underwent back surgery in December, and earlier this month the 30-year-old defender made her return to the pitch for the NWSL’s San Diego Wave.

“It felt great,” Dahlkemper said of her return. “I am just so happy to be back. I feel like it’s been a really long journey. I, throughout my career have fortunately been healthy up until last year. So I’ve never really experienced a long time out like I did. Just proud of myself, I’m happy. Excited to be back with the team.

“It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, physically and mentally. Having to have back surgery at my age is kind of uncommon, so to go in there and have it be not known how it’s going to do, how I’m going to heal, how I’m going to feel coming back was really scary. But I leaned in and trusted my gut. … Everyone helped me along the way and I really wouldn’t be back here today playing if it wasn’t for everyone helping me and the support.

“I tried to take it one day at a time. Definitely a lot of lows, but I celebrated the highs as well. Just happy and really proud of myself. I feel like when you go through adversity that’s when you learn the most about yourself.”

Dahlkemper has not played a full 90 since her return, but she played 45 minutes in the team’s Challenge Cup match on Aug. 6.

Sam Mewis

Mewis underwent arthroscopic surgery on her right knee in August 2021. While she initially was slated for an eight-week absence from the pitch, she just had a follow-up surgery in January, and she has not played for the USWNT in two years.

It is unknown when the 30-year-old midfielder could make her return, though she shared a video of her recovery process in July. In a video captioned “6 months today!” Mewis is seen doing weight-lifting exercises, including lower body exercises such as deadlifts and lunges. The midfielder appears to be regaining range of motion and strength in her right knee.

Still, there remains no timetable for Mewis’ return.

“Obviously, I haven’t played in a while,” she told Goal in July. “I’m just doing my rehab and taking it one day at a time, but I think my message is just in moments like that, in moments of difficulty, just try to find that new purpose, if you can, and apply yourself to that.”

Catarina Macario

Catarina Macario tore her ACL last June and had some setbacks in her recovery journey, which resulted in her missing out on the World Cup. She signed a three-year deal with Chelsea in June, though, and recently was seen at training with the Women’s Super League club as its preseason gets underway.

The WSL season is set to kick off in October, with Chelsea playing Tottenham on Oct. 1. The 23-year-old midfielder could make her return before that, however, if she gets a call-up from the USWNT for the September friendlies.

Tobin Heath

One of the more senior members of the USWNT, Heath has not suited up for the red, white and blue since October 2021. Throughout 2022, she struggled with injuries, including a hamstring injury that ended her season with Arsenal. She later joined OL Reign, appearing in five matches, before once again being sidelined with an injury.

She underwent season-ending knee surgery in September 2022 and has been seen doing limited training. In February, Andonovski said that Heath was “absolutely” still under consideration for World Cup selection. While the 35-year-old forward did not return for the World Cup, her playing days are “definitely not” over yet, she told UPROXX in August.

Christen Press

Press’ recovery journey has not been linear. In June, the 34-year-old forward returned to the practice field in cleats, but she remained on the season-ending injury list for Angel City FC. And then in July she announced she would have to undergo a fourth surgery to repair her knee.

Following the fourth surgery, Press has not shared a recovery timeline, although she has said she wants to return to professional soccer. It’s unlikely that will come during the 2023 NWSL season, so the soonest fans could see Press back in action may be 2024.