Vibe around USWNT camp this week “the start of something new” after Emma Hayes visit

Emma Hayes is back in London after a few days in Fort Lauderdale to meet U.S. women’s national team players and staff as they prepared for a Saturday afternoon friendly against China at DRV PNK Stadium. The dynamic coach, with a big personality and resume to match, was hired last month to coach the U.S. team but won’t take the reins full-time until her season at Chelsea is done in May.

Though she was 4,400 miles away from her new team Friday morning, Hayes’ influence was already being felt. She will continue to collaborate with interim coach Twila Kilgore, who remains in charge until Hayes’ arrival.

“I know it’s the end of the year, but it feels like the start of something new,” said midfielder Rose Lavelle, one of the veteran players left on the roster from the 2019 and 2023 World Cups. “She’s going to bring so much to us on the field, but also culture wise and getting us all on the same page message-wise and kind of reinventing ourselves, having a new identity and pushing beyond what we even thought was possible. She brings the whole gamut.”

Forward Lynn Williams added: “I think it was super important for her to come in and not just introduce herself but lay down exactly what the plan is going to look like and it was really cool that she came into the environment and wanted to get to know us as humans.

“It’s going to be fun having her here. She’s somebody who knows how to goof off and be relaxed in the moments you can be, but also, when it comes it comes down to moments you have to be at your best, her expectation is excellence.”

Williams said transitioning to a new coach and system can be “nerve-wracking” it is also exciting. “It’s going to be a challenge, and that’s what this team needs, to be challenged in the right way.”

The U.S. team is coming off its worst World Cup performance in history after bowing out of the 2023 Cup in the Round of 16. Megan Rapinoe and Julie Ertz retired from the team, and other key players, such as Alex Morgan, Crystal Dunn, Alyssa Naeher and Becky Sauerbrunn were left off the 26-player roster for this camp and the upcoming pair of exhibition games against China.

Hayes and Kilgore collaborated to pick this roster, and this week began discussing new tactical strategies and big-picture changes in the team culture.

“It’s been very, very natural,” Kilgore said of working with Hayes. “There’s been good communication ahead of time and this just felt like another great step. There is a lot of excitement and a new feeling just having Emma around. She has been focused on player relationships and starting to get to know them and I’ve been focused on the day-to-day.”

Asked if there is any Hayes imprint that fans will be able to notice on the field Saturday against China, Kilgore said: “I think that’s information that should stay in-house and stay within our team and it’s up for you guys to observe and enjoy…Some things we’ve been strategically holding back on are happening now, which is very exciting.”

From the moment Hayes took over, there has been talk of the team becoming more possession based.

Kilgore said she is looking for “more bravery” from the players and wants to see them “more aggressive going forward.”

One of the few players who already knows Hayes is forward Mia Fishel, who signed with Chelsea this season and has been sharing with U.S. teammates what she has learned playing for Hayes.

“I talked to my teammates about what her playing style is like because it’s definitely different from the States and we’re all trying to adapt,” Fishel said. “She’s very funny, cracking jokes in meetings this camp, so it’s cool she’s already getting comfortable with the team and showing a little bit about herself. But she’s also very serious. She has a good balance between being serious and being lighthearted.”

Tickets for the USA-China game Saturday start at $25 and are available through TicketMaster.