Hayes visits with USWNT as team wraps up an eventful 2023 — Must-click links — Q+A with Lindsey Horan
The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson, Dec. 4, 2023
The Emma Hayes era has officially begun. Well, sort of.
Incoming U.S. women’s national team (USWNT) head coach Hayes met with players this past week in Florida ahead of their final two matches of the year against China. We already knew that she had provided input on the roster for the team’s two final matches of the year, even though she’s not “officially” joining the team until May, when Chelsea’s season is over. Hayes did not speak publicly.
But in their media availabilities, the players all spoke about the fresh start under Hayes — especially coming off their disappointing showing at the Women’s World Cup.
“We feel like we have our direction. We know what we’re building towards now, and it’s all very clear. I think overall we’re just excited to hit the ground running with her,” defender Naomi Girma said.
“This team has always been able to push the bar on and off the field and right now it feels like a moment we have two options. We just either stay the same and you continue to get the same results, or we challenge ourselves and push again,” Lynn Williams said.
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The collectively assembled roster was absent of a few veterans, namely Alex Morgan, Crystal Dunn, Becky Sauerbrunn and Alyssa Naeher. Interim coach Twila Kilgore insisted when the roster was released that there wasn’t anything to read into the exclusions. Instead, Kilgore, Hayes and U.S. Soccer Sporting Director Matt Crocker gave spots to younger and less experienced players, including first-timers Jenna Nighswonger and Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Korbin Albert.
The team’s time to come together is short. They’ll play in the Women’s Gold Cup in March, then the Olympics loom in July.
Gotham’s Nighswonger and Portland’s Olivia Moultrie earned their first-ever caps in the 3-0 victory over China in the first game on Saturday in Fort Lauderdale. Rodman, Horan and Sophia Smith provided the goals. Rodman also contributed two assists.
The second game is set for Tuesday night in Frisco, Texas.
There will be another significant game on Tuesday: Christine Sinclair will play her final match with the Canadian national team at BC Place in Vancouver. Sophie Schmidt will also play her last match. Goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who retired in January, will be honored.
On Sunday night Sinclair and Schmidt spoke to the media.
“When Soph and I first joined the national team really no one cared, and I joined because — obviously I got invited — but it was something cool to do. And to see the growth of the game, see where it’s at now, and the opportunities that are available, whether its in the national team or playing pro. Honestly I never thought in my career that this was going to happen. And I just feel fortunate to be a part of that growth and it’s incredible to experience the change,” Sinclair said.
Sinclair leaves the national team after a storied career, which I’ve talked about extensively for Soccer Monday. I don’t have much to add, except to repeat that she’s scored 190 freaking goals. More than anybody else, male or female, in international soccer. Astounding.
Schmidt said after the World Cup that she was retiring after a 19-year career, but she agreed to play two more matches so she would be sent off with Sinclair.
One other thing: The NCAA Women’s College Cup is tonight! Stanford plays FSU. It’s on ESPNU.
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Question and answer with Lindsey Horan
Lindsey Horan spoke at camp before the matches against China, here’s a bit of what she said.
Question: Are you surprised with how popular soccer has become in the US?
Horan: Well, no. I think we were always hoping it was going to be the case, but it’s grown. It’s grown so much on the men’s and women’s side. And, again, that’s what we want. We want progress in the U.S. and we want to be able to compete around the world and I think for us on the women’s national team, it’s always kind of been the case, but you see, the men’s side is growing as well. So it’s massive.
Question: Just how motivated is the team after the disappointment after the World Cup? What went wrong and what is going to be worked on in the coming months to get the team back together?
Horan: We’re a few months off of that now, so I think we’re just gonna focus on moving forward and I think the team is fully motivated as we always are, after any big tournament, win or loss. Obviously, there’s extra motivation right now, because that’s not the way that we wanted to go out. But we have an Olympics just around the corner, which is always a huge main focus for us in this US national team. So I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished the last few months because it’s been hard, and because we had to progress and we had to look forward and the future , just upon us, so I’m very excited. I’m excited to see what this team does.
Question: Your feelings on the new coach and the transition.
Horan: I think the team and myself we’re so very happy and honored to have Emma our coach, so many great things that she’s done in the course of her career and with Chelsea as well. Even though they are a main competitor of mine right now, but yeah, we’re very honored to have her. Obviously we don’t get her full time till May but I think Twila’s doing great with the team as well.
Question: What are your expectations for China?
Horan: The women’s game has grown so much and so I think no matter what, we’re gonna have a highly competitive game and obviously a big camp for us. It’s a lot of new faces and, and kind of the end of the year. So an exciting way to go out against a good, good opponent and again, we haven’t seen him in five years. So it’ll be interesting for us, but that’s great. We love this kind of competition.
Question: Have you had a chance to look at that strengths and weaknesses China has?
Horan: We just got here so we haven’t done full tactical, technical analysis yet, but I think that will come in the next few days. But again, I think it’s a great side and like you said, Asian champions as well, so a team that likes to win and a team that’s growing and progressing through the women’s game.
Question: This is a this is a moment for the US team to kind of reflect and rebuild. When what what are the key focuses on these two games?
Horan: I know it’s been a long year for a lot of these players that are in the NWSL. So it’s kind of the end of the season for them, end of the year for them. So I think we want to go out on a high and show kind of where this team is progressing forward. We won’t have a lot of time together until January, February —when the next camp is — so I think it’s just highly important for us to start meshing together and improving more, progressing…before the Olympics. So we’ve got to utilize [these games] and do whatever we can to to win these games but progress as a team as well.
Question: Are the Olympics your key motivation now?
Horan: Well, it’s one of them, obviously, we have the Gold Cup as well coming up in February so that’s a huge tournament for us. It’s the first one for us. So I think we take each game as it comes but the Olympics is on its way and that’s a medal that we want to win that we haven’t won in a long time. And then the cycle starts for the next World Cup. And so everything starts now. Every camp matters. Every training maters. Every game matters. So yeah — very, very excited.
Question: Emma had some comments about the team before she was named coach, what were your thoughts on what she said.? [Horan had not read the comments.]
Horan: I think anyone can be critical of our team coming out of this World Cup. I think you have to kind of deep dive in and see what did go wrong and what needs to be done and how we can progress and I think that is the job of a new coach to come in, to sit here and be like, what does this team need? And I think she she’s probably spot on there. There’s so much talent…and I don’t think the world has seen enough of it yet, just because we need to go out and show it; we need to be able to mesh together and show everything that we have and what we’re all about and how we can really collaborate and play together and be more of a team and be a powerhouse. It’s gonna be exciting for us to obviously have her and see what she can do with this team and and how she can help us improve them moving forward.
Question: As a leader, what can you do to integrate the young talent?
Horan: Well, first off, I think the younger generation is taking over. I think it’s a very cool thing. I think we have a very young team here right now and a few new individuals as well. So I think it’s important for them to be able to fully insert themselves and be comfortable in this environment, but know that it’s going to be a challenge and being on the US national team and being in camp here is hard; it’s difficult and there’s standard to be held and a level that you have to get up to every single day and to be able to show up every day and have that competitive edge. So I think that’s huge for them. I think for me, it’s about helping them — coming into this environment, be able to be themselves but know that, hey, you have to be up to this level. Come show up every single day, hold that standard. We want to go out and win a gold medal come this summer. So I think that’s the that’s the priority is you know — every single thing that we do is for that and we want to win again.
|By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
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