Emma Hayes' career took her through Chicago, and now her era for the U.S. Women's National Team has begun

NEW YORK — One day, Emma Hayes will have time for a proper vacation.

Last Saturday, she put the cherry on top of an epic 12-year career at Chelsea by leading the London club she built from the ground up to its seventh overall — and fifth consecutive — Women's Super League title. Then, on Wednesday, she flew to New York City with a new title in hand: United States women's national team head coach.

Hayes is diving head first into a new job with the Paris Olympics a mere two months away. She was officially hired by U.S. Soccer back in November but wanted to finish out Chelsea's season before fully committing. Now that chapter has closed, and Hayes, who is always up for a challenge, will face her next one: to restore the four-time World Cup champion USWNT to its winning ways. 

"Of course, in an ideal world, everybody would love to be sitting on a beach somewhere now for a couple of weeks," Hayes joked Thursday afternoon during a roundtable discussion with a small group of reporters at the National Women's Soccer League offices in Manhattan.

"But my perspective is really clear," she continued. "You don't get many opportunities to go to an Olympics in your life. And so I only needed a day off on Sunday — I had a birthday party for 40 people, most of them 6-year-olds — to remind me that I can't wait to go back to work."

This was a Star Wars themed party, mind you, and Hayes said Luke Skywalker was there. Now there are "more Star Wars gifts than I care for in my house," Hayes said with a chuckle.

Following Hayes' final match with Chelsea — a 6-0 blowout win over Manchester United to clinch the WSL title — she told reporters that she "categorically cannot carry on. I don't have another drop to give, whatever it is." But what she meant by that was that she could not continue in the same capacity as she has for so long at Chelsea. 

Managing the USWNT is different and has long been Hayes' dream job. She started her career stateside and lived in New York for seven years. She worked her way up from coaching boys' youth teams, to a women's amateur team, to the women's team at Iona College, to the Chicago Red Stars, where she drafted and briefly coached Megan Rapinoe.

Now it's all "coming full circle," said Hayes, who made sure to get at least two walks in Central Park while visiting New York City this week.

"My journey has been bottom up," Hayes said. "I've worked hard to get to this point, and you could dream for something — we all have dreams — but it's not often your dreams become a reality. And I always grew up with that notion, this whole ‘American Dream' concept that you can come to a country, work in a certain way, and to work my way up through the system to be now the head coach of the U.S. women's national team.

"I will give it absolutely everything I've got to make sure I uphold the traditions of this team."

Hayes is a "serial winner" — that's the term U.S. Soccer Sporting Director Matt Crocker used when he hired her. She won 16 trophies in 12 years at Chelsea, including seven WSL titles and five FA Cups. She was honored with an MBE and OBE by the late Queen Elizabeth II — honors of the highest order in the United Kingdom — for her services to football. She knows how to get the best out of her players, sets high expectations for herself and for her teams, and takes pride in leaving things in a better place than she found them.

"I take as much pride in that as I do winning," Hayes said.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 23: (EDITOR'S NOTE: This image has been digitally altered.) United States Women's National Team head coach Emma Hayes poses for a portrait on May 23, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

Now the question is, will that winning translate to the international level? It became widely apparent that the USWNT was in desperate need of change after its shockingly early exit in the round of 16 at last summer's FIFA World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Additionally, the squad hasn't won a gold medal at the Olympics since 2012. 

"If we can perform at our best level, then we have a chance of doing things," Hayes said. "But we've got work to do. 

"The realities are the world game is where it is and the rest of the world do not fear the USA in the way that they once did. And that's valid. So it's our job to grasp, quite quickly, what we need to do to get close again to those levels."

Earlier this week, Hayes named a 23-player roster for upcoming friendlies against Korea Republic on June 1 in Denver and June 4 in St. Paul, Minn., which will be her first matches on the USWNT sideline. This will be the only camp she'll have before selecting 18 players for the Olympic roster. However, she made it clear that "the roster is not determined. It's very much open," Hayes said.

While all of this might seem like a daunting and quick turnaround, Hayes is detail- and process-oriented. She has her staff assembled — which includes former interim head coach Twila Kilgore as well as five members from her Chelsea staff — and will meet with them Saturday in Denver before the players arrive on Monday. Hayes has a structure and timeline in place, and she said everything is planned out for the months of June and July.

Plus, Kilgore has fast-tracked Hayes and briefed her on all kinds of things over the past six months. From World Cup learnings to selection process to CBA to traditions to culture to kits and more, Hayes is now pretty well-versed in all things USWNT.

"I want to know and make sure to maintain and uphold the right things," Hayes said. "[Twila and I have] been on many long calls late at night, certainly been to bed quite late the last few months. But she's been a humongous help."

Hayes has also scheduled one-on-ones with each player during camp so she can start getting to know them on a personal level. She knows a few — Catarina Macario and Mia Fishel play for Chelsea now, and Crystal Dunn had a stint with the club in 2017 and 2018. 

"I want to build trust," Hayes said. "I want to come from a place where trust is the foundation. I want to build a family environment that everybody looks after each other. 

"And I recognize the program's history and I have admired so many things that the players have done over the years to advocate, not just for themselves, but for the things and causes that matter most. I don't want to change those things, but I also want to make sure everybody understands that everything we do, we have to ask ourselves, ‘Is this helping the team win?' That's what my focus will be."

The Hayes era has now — officially — begun.


Oregon's 'The Sports Bra' bar goes nationwide, expanding women's sports viewing

An Oregon bar, "The Sports Bra," which exclusively airs women's sports, plans to expand nationwide via a franchise model just two years after its inception.