The USWNT and the inevitable reality of moving on

The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie Peterson, July 1, 2024

Team sports are often about tough choices. Who starts? Who rides the bench? Who makes the team? Just look at Caitlin Clark and the USA Basketball roster. U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) head coach Emma Hayes faced a similar dilemma by omitting veteran forward Alex Morgan from the Olympic roster, but for different reasons.

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While Clark is still a rookie with much to learn, Morgan is growing older while younger and more versatile players are taking over. Both are not popular decisions. For many, Clark is arguably the face of the WNBA at this moment, and Alex Morgan, with her past success on the world stage and many high-profile endorsement deals, is the most recognized player on the USWNT.

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Let’s face it, among the die-hards, there have been conversations in past months about Morgan and moving on. A few weeks ago I took a crack at the roster and included Morgan, if only to provide some veteran leadership among the youngsters.

But I understand the counter argument as well. With Hayes establishing herself as the new coach, setting a tone and focusing on the future, maybe it’s the best time to move on.

Of course, Morgan could make her way back to the team in the future. I wouldn’t count her out of the mix just yet. However, she’s 35 so I think the 2027 World Cup may be a stretch for her.

Rather than post the whole media availability with Hayes here, I’m going to hit on what I think were some of more salient points she made.

First, Hayes explained her decision concerning Morgan.

“First off, I want to talk about what an amazing … human that Alex Morgan has been. I’ve only had one opportunity to work with her, in the last camp, and I saw firsthand not just her qualities but her professionalism — and her record speaks for itself. Second of all it’s not easy making a decision that there’s only 16 outfield players and two goalkeepers on a roster of 18. So, it was a tough decision, of course, especially considering Alex’s history and record with this team. But I felt that I wanted to, to go in another direction and selected other players.”

USWNT head coach Emma Hayes

She went on to describe the need for players who could adapt.

“I think the biggest factor is the 16 outfield players to play a lot of games, arguably, I hope, over a 17 day period. So having a roster that could adapt is essential. We have a tight turnaround between games. So of course having players on the roster that could play more than one position mattered with squad depth. But I also think there are players on the roster in the forward areas that are performing well and the decision to take those players was one that we certainly deliberated over. But I think it’s a balanced roster — I’ve considered all the factors that we’re going to need throughout the Olympics — and one that I’m really happy with.”

USWNT head coach Emma Hayes

Hayes answered Meg Linehan’s question about why she decided to take midfielder Korbin Albert, a player shrouded in controversy due to anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. Hayes addressed the controversy head on, citing specific conversations she’s had with Albert about the impact of her actions.

“I think it’s really important that that everybody in this team understands the importance of not just being tolerant and respectful and understanding the things that are going to matter to us all, that Korbin has had to learn. … My experiences with her has been someone who’s a young person who has understood fully the implications of her social media activity. I’m not going to go into that in great detail because that’s between Korbin and I. But the conversations we have had has been to talk about the importance of what we have to be mindful of and how we are all part of an environment that appreciates and understands the damage that that can do … She’s spending time working on herself, as we all do. I look forward to building on that with her. I want everybody to know that my job is to make sure I keep doing that. And I want the fans to really embrace Korbin because I do think she’s a tremendous human being.”

USWNT head coach Emma Hayes

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Likewise Hayes also spoke about midfielder/forward Catarina Macario, who hilariously didn’t pick up Hayes’ first two calls.

“I have had the luxury of coaching Cat previously, so I know the U.S. fans haven’t seen maybe as much as I have in recent months, but I’ve seen a player that — she’s got unbelievable game, intelligence. … She’s put some real hard yards into to to getting back to the level I think everybody knows she’s capable of. She actually didn’t pick up my first two calls, so it took me a little bit longer to get hold of her. But she was, as everybody was, really honored and privileged to get the call and representing their country is, for them, the biggest privilege. So yeah, she was delighted. I just told her to try and pick up a little bit sooner, but she said she was at the gym. So that’s fair enough.”

USWNT head coach Emma Hayes

And finally, I thought Hayes gave an interesting answer about the successful past of the USWNT and returning to the top.

“There’s no rite of passage for any team in the world to just win an Olympic gold medal. There’s no denying the history of this program has been hugely successful. But the reality is it’s going to take a lot of work for us to get to that top level again. I think looking through the sort of cap accumulation of the team, there has been a lack of development of putting some of the less experienced players in positions where they can develop that experience. And I think it’s important that we have to do that to take the next step. So I’m not looking backwards. I think we have to look forward with a group of players that have put that World Cup behind them, and we’re very much looking forward to sort of building on the work post the World Cup. For us, this is an opportunity for us to to show that those learnings will take us much further than it did last time. But there is no guarantee in anything in life.”

USWNT head coach Emma Hayes

One other newsy tidbit: Hayes said 17-year-old midfielder Lily Yohannes, who was not named to the USWNT, hasn’t made her mind up about whether she will ultimately represent the United States. She could switch to play for the Netherlands, a team that has emerged as a global contender in recent years.

Links to click

New show! Here’s some details about from Pro Soccer Wire

Lots of takes on the Olympic roster

ESPN’s Jeff Kassouf explains why Morgan was left off the roster and what comes next

USA Today explains the Korbin Albert controversy

The Athletic’s Meg Linehan and Jeff Rueter on why the absence of Morgan shouldn’t be a shock

Interesting column on the Olympics without Caitlin Clark and Alex Morgan

Outsports wrote about Sam Mewis’ reaction to Korbin Albert’s inclusion

Cute story on pregame rituals

Landon Donovan offered advice to Morgan

Ally, Re-Inc. partner with Scripps for NWSL broadcasts on ION

My story on Marta and Banda fueling the Pride’s turnaround

Giraldez spoke to ESPN about leaving Barcelona and joining the Washington Spirit

The San Diego Union Tribune on Casey Stoney’s dismissal

Michelle Kang said multi-team ownership is good for women’s soccer

The Royals also let go of Amy Rodriguez

Oh and if you’re more of a video person, here’s Hayes’ comments helpfully published by US Soccer on YouTube:

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Written by Annie Peterson