USWNT coach meets players for first time, but remains behind the scenes

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Emma Hayes, the new United States women’s national team soccer coach, joined the team for the first time Tuesday ahead of two matches against China.

Hayes will not officially begin her new gig until May, so won’t be coaching or instrumental in the team’s training sessions. Instead, she is present for a “three-day meet and greet” with the players and coaches, a USWNT spokesman told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday.

Hayes was not seen by media during the first 15 minutes of Tuesday’s training session, and is not expected to attend Saturday’s 3 p.m. ET match at DRV PNK Stadium — home to Lionel Messi and Major League Soccer's Inter Miami — or the match Tuesday in Frisco, Texas.

Interim coach Twila Kilgore is still in charge, but Hayes’ presence is a welcome one for the U.S. women as their road to next year's Concacaf W Gold Cup and Paris Olympics is underway.

Hayes’ role with the USWNT is simple: Help the Americans return to golden glory after their early exit in the 2023 World Cup in August.

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“Everyone is really excited. We feel like we have our direction. We know what we’re building towards now, and it’s all very clear,” defender Naomi Girma, a two-time NWSL defender of the year with the San Diego Wave, said of Hayes.

“I think overall we’re just excited to hit the ground running with her.”

Hayes, who is from London but began her coaching career with multiple stints in the U.S., is considered one of the best soccer coaches in the game. She's a six-time WSL manager of the year and was FIFA’s coach of the year in 2021. She's also led Chelsea since 2012, winning six Super League titles (including the last four) and five FA Cups. She also led Chelsea to the Champions League final in 2021 and the semifinals last year.

Chelsea's current season ends in May, which is why Hayes will not officially assume her role as USWNT coach until then.

“Obviously, her resume speaks for itself,” Girma said. “Just that winning mentality, that shift and new perspective on our team and our players. Me, personally, I’m excited to learn from her and excited about what she’s going to bring to our group.”

USWNT captain Lindsey Horan plays for French club Lyon and regularly competes against Chelsea in tournaments. She spoke with excitement, for herself and the team, about Hayes taking over.

“The team and myself, we’re so very happy and honored to have Emma as our coach,” Horan said. “There’s so many great things that she’s done in the course of her career and with Chelsea as well – even though they’re a main competitor of mine as well. We don’t get her full time until May, but I think Twila is great with the team as well.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: When does Emma Hayes start? USWNT coach meets players for first time