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 regulars Sophia Smith and Mallory Swanson furthered their cases for Olympic inclusion with their respective club victories on Saturday and Sunday.

After a roller coaster of a week that saw former Thorns head coach Mike Norris reassigned and a flurry of last-minute roster reshufflings as Friday's trade window closure loomed, the NWSL sprung to life over the weekend with standout performances from ninth-place Portland and third-place Chicago, among others.

After her blocked attempt at goal set up a volleying sixth-minute opener from veteran Christine Sinclair — now the only player in history to record a goal in all 11 NWSL seasons — Smith swiftly netted her own in the 27th minute off a breakaway run that eluded Houston's backline. The goal represented Smith's third of the season as well as her 35th for the Thorns, ultimately leading to the home side's first win of the season in a 4-1 routing of the Dash.

But that wasn't Smith's only stat of the evening. The star forward also lapped former Chicago Red Star Sam Kerr to become the youngest player to reach 50 NWSL goal contributions across all games, chalking up 40 goals and 10 assists at the age of 23 years and 254 days.

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"Obviously it feels good to get a win," said Smith in a post-match press conference. "But this is the standard the Thorns have always had. So a win is great, but a win is the expectation — we're hungrier than ever after the way we started."

170 miles up the road, Lumen Field similarly showcased some promising Olympic prospect footwork on Sunday. In Chicago's 2-1 victory over the lagging 13th-place Seattle Reign, striker Mallory Swanson racked up an impressive counterattack assist on fellow forward Ally Schlegel's fourth-minute goal. Swanson went on to find the back of the net herself before halftime, lacing an explosive ball into the top corner in the 31st minute, her second of the season after returning from a lengthy sidelining injury.

Speaking of injuries, fellow USWNT favorites Alex Morgan and Tierna Davidson were not as fortunate as their national squad teammates this weekend. Each exited their club matches early, Morgan with an ankle knock in San Diego's loss to Orlando and Davidson with an apparent hamstring incident early on in Washington's win over Gotham.

Mallory Swanson has re-signed with the Chicago Red Stars on a record-breaking deal.

The free agent will remain in Chicago on a five-year contract, which is the longest in league history. And while the terms of the deal have not been disclosed, it’s also reportedly the largest in NWSL history.

“I am excited to be back with the Red Stars! These last few years have been such a blessing in Chicago, even with the ups and downs, and I can’t wait to be back,” said Swanson in a release. “I am looking forward to getting to work and helping the team win championships. See everyone soon!”

It’s the latest in what has been a number of record-breaking signings for some of the league’s best players. Previously, Maria Sánchez had signed the largest contract in league history in December, signing a three-year contract worth nearly $1.5 million with the Houston Dash. In 2022, Trinity Rodman signed a four-year deal worth $1.4 million with the Washington Spirit.

“The Red Stars could not be more excited that Mallory Swanson has decided to extend her career with us here in Chicago,” said Chicago Red Stars president, Karen Leetzow. “Mallory exemplifies the grit, focus and resiliency of our franchise and is an anchor for this team. Mal is a born leader on and off the field and I look forward to working with her to make the Red Stars a championship team.”

There had been reports that Swanson had intended to re-sign with the Red Stars, despite receiving significant offers from other clubs. Swanson has been the Red Stars’ primary offensive asset since she signed with the club in 2021. She began 2022 as such, scoring two goals for the Red Stars early in the NWSL season before tearing her patellar tendon in April 2023.

Swanson has been back training without any brace or support on her injured knee, indicating that she may be healed and ready to play by the beginning of the NWSL season in March.

She’ll do so with a new head coach, as the team’s new ownership group opted to hire former Jamaica national team manager Lorne Donaldson. He also was president of elite youth club Real Colorado, where he helped develop Swanson and fellow USWNT star forward Sophia Smith.