Hayes: I won’t change USWNT’s ‘American DNA’

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — New United States women’s national team head coach Emma Hayes must quickly overhaul a team coming off its worst World Cup finish in history last year. First, she quipped, she needed to learn everyone’s names.

Hayes took the microphone at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Friday for her first formal news conference as head coach, and she said there is one part of the team she wants to remain the same.

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“We all know the main ingredients of the American DNA, and that will not change under my stewardship,” Hayes said.

Speaking to reporters last week, Hayes partly defined that DNA as “the attitude towards performance and the expectation to give it everything you’ve got … managing pressure at the biggest stage, managing the badge on this jersey.”

Hayes said on Friday that she has been conducting 15-minute individual meetings with every player in camp, a process that will carry into next week as the team’s first training camp under its new coach continues. Getting to know players on and off the field “is where the overload has been,” she said.

“I don’t do fast friends,” Hayes said, underlying the pragmatic approach she keeps describing. “I want us to build the right things in the right moments.”

Saturday’s game against South Korea will be Hayes’ first in charge of the USWNT since she accepted the job in November. Hayes finished the European season with Chelsea, winning a fifth straight English league title earlier this month.

Hayes will have Saturday’s game and a rematch on Tuesday in St. Paul, Minnesota, before selecting her 18-player Olympic roster sometime in the next month. The team and a brand-new staff have less than two months to get synchronized ahead of the Olympics in France.

Hayes spoke last week about the need to strike a balance between talented young players and having experienced voices in the locker room. Forward Alex Morgan — who is fully available after a recent ankle injury — is the most capped player in camp, and is now assimilating to her fourth full-time coaching transition with the USWNT.

“I think it means that we are both learning from each other quickly as needed,” Morgan said about Hayes’ desire to preserve the “DNA” of a team that has won four of the nine Women’s World Cups. “Everything is on track. I think she came into this environment and obviously it’s something that she had been looking forward to for many months; it’s something we have been looking forward to, having her in, for many months.

“I think it just means we are in a really good place and in a place of mutual respect and understanding that we have to build trust. It has to start somewhere, but we’re in a good place.”

Hayes said Friday that there are many things she will not discuss about team matters in public, but she frequently praised her players’ ability to digest information in her 13-minute news conference.

“I think there’s been a better tactical understanding then I anticipated, but for me the most important thing is the ability to grasp the information really, really quickly. [They’re] sponges, unbelievable sponges.

“No matter what we’ve thrown at them this week, they’ve taken it on, they’re absorbing it. This team is desperate to improve and is focused on the performances and the processes to do that.”

A few minutes later, the team took the field under sunny Colorado skies and began passing drills that ended with goal-scoring opportunities. Hayes stood in the middle of the field and communicated orders, eventually telling players that they would have to choose the right passing sequence.

“Emma surprises us every day,” USWNT forward Sophia Smith said. “She’s a ball of energy, but we all knew that. She’s an amazing person, first and foremost. She’s a fun coach to play for; she’s a coach you want to play for.”

As 19-year-old attacking prodigy Jaedyn Shaw said: “It’s go time.”

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