United States
Why Emma Hayes' ruthlessness is just what the USWNT needs
United States

Why Emma Hayes' ruthlessness is just what the USWNT needs

Updated May. 20, 2024 4:48 p.m. ET

Emma Hayes' last actions before officially becoming United States women's national team head coach were to deliver the "cruelest" punishment to the final opponent that dared to try to stop her dominance of English domestic soccer.

If "cruel" seems like a strong word to attach to a sporting contest, it wasn't my choice. It came from Manchester City head coach Gareth Taylor, whose team thought it had the Women's Super League title in its grasp before Hayes' Chelsea snatched it away in the final week of the season.

"Winning 18 games in a 22-game season is usually enough to win the league," Taylor told reporters, his squad having finished level on points with Chelsea but missing out due to goal differential. "We have come up the cruelest way short of that."

Truth be told, perhaps Taylor didn't go far enough with his descriptive language. As Hayes prepares to head Stateside and take over a USA program facing bigger challenges than at any time in its history, you could fairly add mean, ruthless, uncompromising, unforgiving and, sometimes, just plain nasty, to the things that can be said about the mindset the coach instills in her teams.


And that is exactly what the USWNT needs.

The gap separating the Americans from the rest of the world has gone from cavernous to zero in a stunningly short amount of time. From total domination at the 2019 World Cup to coming within a fraction of being knocked out in the group stage four years later, ultimately losing on penalties to a superior Sweden team in the round of 16.

The U.S. wasn't good enough in Australia and New Zealand 10 months ago, but, perhaps more gallingly, it wasn't tough enough either. The old steel inherent in the program, the historic step-on-your-throat forcefulness, had evaporated, lost somewhere along the way as an era of being unquestionably the best came tumbling to an end.

Hayes' job is to bring it back, swiftly, with the Olympic Games now on the near horizon.

On a personal level, all information suggests Hayes is cheerful and enjoyable company. English soccer experts regard her as one of the finest footballing brains her country has ever produced. Her technical and tactical wizardry has been at the forefront of women's soccer's ongoing revolution, while her leadership strategies are the stuff TED talks are made of.

Carli Lloyd on what Emma Hayes will bring to USWNT

But the kind of greatness that spawns five consecutive WSL titles, also requires willingly treading the tough path. It requires grit as much as guile. Former players speak glowingly of Hayes, but there have also been countless times when she has shown little time for sentiment, dropping out-of-form players despite their past service or discarding those whose usefulness had waned.

At that level — and make no mistake the WSL is now the preeminent national competition in women's soccer — that's what it takes.

What it took to complete five in a row and give Hayes the perfect sendoff was to run up the score and thrash Bristol City 8-0, wiping out Manchester City's goal differential advantage. It took squeaking by Tottenham on the road. It took keeping enough pressure on Taylor's team that they finally cracked, surrendering a late lead against Liverpool to open an opportunity.

And, on the final day, it took a whopping 6-0 road win at Manchester United, a stunning thrashing against a team filled with high-quality international players.

"(Manchester City) have had a tremendous season, but if you leave that door open for (us)?" Hayes said. "I think the minute the door was left open was the minute everyone knew we would walk through."

Modern women's soccer at the international level is a brutal game that so often favors whichever team is able to bring the greater intensity. There is no longer a great difference in quality, or fitness, or technique between any of the best teams.

[Want great stories delivered right to your inbox? Create or log in to your FOX Sports account, follow leagues, teams and players to receive a personalized newsletter daily.]

Last year, the USA found itself on the wrong side of the sport's new pace and vibe. The most memorable moment of the World Cup was when Lindsey Horan got mad at a foul by an opponent against the Netherlands, and used that irate fuel to strike a crucial equalizing goal. Frankly, it was a dose of passion that was too often lacking.

Hayes has the coaching tools to deliver, to keep pace with the swift movements, the fresh tactical advances, the never-greater professionalism and just the very intricacy of the modern game.

But she's also a hardened and unapologetic winner and last weekend provided the ultimate proof of it. With Chelsea, she saved the best, the most dramatic, and yes, the cruelest, for last.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.


Get more from United States Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more