USWNT Year in Review: Slipping on the World’s Stage Prompts Needed Change

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United States’ Lindsey Horan celebrates her team’s first US goal during the Women’s World Cup Group E soccer match between the United States and the Netherlands in Wellington, New Zealand, Thursday, July 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Alysa Rubin)

The US Women’s National Team had a tough year in 2023. They came into a World Cup year looking to do what no nation had ever done, three-peat. The USWNT were the favorites to win but as the tournament began it was clear there was something different about this team. They crashed out in the Round of 16 on PKS to Sweden; their worst finish at a Women’s World Cup.

This prompted head coach Vlatko Andonovski to step down and create a change that was sorely needed for the top women’s team in the World. Veteran players announced retirement allowing for some younger players to step up as the next generation. It also allowed the federation to find the next head coach, someone who will lead this superpower into the future.

United States’ Lindsey Horan celebrates her team’s first US goal during the Women’s World Cup Group E soccer match between the United States and the Netherlands in Wellington, New Zealand, Thursday, July 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Alysa Rubin)

Failure at the 2023 World Cup brings about the best kind of change

The USWNT is used to be on top. They had been for so many years that the expectation was to stay on top. However, the rest of the world has been sneaking up on the USA; there has been a push to invest in the women’s games by federations all over the world, particularly in Europe. The USWNT used to rely on their pure skill to beat teams. Now that other teams are becoming just as, if not more skilled, the talent gap has shrunk, and it’s caught up to the USWNT.

Over the last few years, the USWNT has not lost many matches, but its success is measured by success in the Olympics and the Women’s World Cup. Back in 2021 the USWNT fell in the semifinals of the Olympics and had to settle for a Bronze medal. This past year they had their worst finish in a Women’s World Cup ever. Vlatko Andonovski was in charge of both teams, and he did little to help the team tactically. He rolled out veteran players who had won before and expected them to carry the team to win again.

At this past summer’s World Cup. This meant seeing more veteran players and less of the up-and-coming players who deserved a chance. The World Cup started well as the USA beat Vietnam 3-0. Things stumbled a bit after there in their two other group stage matches; a 1-1 draw against the Netherlands, and a 0-0 draw against Portugal saw the USWNT narrowly get out of the group. They then had to take on rivals Sweden where a 0-0 draw meant PKs would determine who moved on. Sweden won just barely 5-4 knocking out the USWNT.

Vlatko’s lackluster performance and leadership prompted him to resign after the World Cup. Little did anyone know then, but this failure opened the way for major changes that should reshape the USWNT as a world power.

World Cup
United States’ players react after losing their Women’s World Cup round of 16 soccer match against Sweden in a penalty shootout in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Aug. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Hamish Blair)

Out go the veterans; In comes new blood

Veterans like Megan Rapinoe and Julie Ertz retired in 2023. Co-Captain Alex Morgan seems okay to take a slightly lesser role for the team moving forward. Players who were youngsters not so long ago are now taking on veteran roles; players like Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle. Now some up-and-coming players are poised to be breakout stars for years and years to come.

Alyssa Thompson, Trinity Rodman, and Sophia Smith are ready to be spry attackers for years to come. NWSL standouts like Midge Purce, Savanah DeMelo, and Naomi Girma are poised to be major difference-makers as well. Countless other players are in the system currently who will look to make the most of opportunities, and there will be youth players rising through the ranks soon as well.

With the old guard giving way to the new wave of players, we will likely see a USWNT that is more raw and willing to try things on the pitch to get the team back to the top. The 2023 version of the team looked inept at times. A lot of this was due to the coaching and leadership. That is all about to change with the USWNT’s newest head coach.

United States’ Megan Rapinoe, left, replaces teammate Sophia Smith during the Women’s World Cup Group E soccer match between Portugal and the United States at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand, Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Cornaga)

Emma Hayes can lead the USWNT to new heights in 2024

In November the US Soccer announced the appointment of the most successful women’s club coach as the next coach of the USWNT. Emma Hayes has a long career in coaching both in the United States and in her home country of England. Hayes won 13 trophies in seven seasons at the helm of Chelsea, that’s one-and-a-half trophies a year.

Hayes’ accolades helped her win the Best FIFA Football Coach award in 2021. Now she is taking her talents to a national team that has been the best in the world but has fallen off over the last few years. The task is simple, get the USWNT back to the pinnacle of the Women’s game. This is something that Hayes has experience of doing at the club stage.

When Emma Hayes took over Chelsea, she had to take players and club employees who were part-time. Her ability to organize and process, as well as he willingness to lead helped Chelsea go from those perennial bottom dwellers to the best team in just a few short years. She will be tasked with bringing an underachieving USWNT back to their winning pedigree.

Hayes and the USWNT will enter 2024 with the opportunity to show the world they are back as this coming summer the USWNT will have the chance to go for Gold at the Paris Olympics! They will play in the Women’s Concacaf Gold Cup in February, and also have another iteration of the She Believes Cup in April ahead of the Summer Olympics. We will see then if this team can rise up and become the best team in the world again!

FILE – Chelsea’s coach Emma Hayes directs her team during the UEFA Women’s Champions League final soccer match between Chelsea FC and FC Barcelona in Gothenburg, Sweden, on May 16, 2021. Hayes says she’s focused on Chelsea and her young son, not the United States women’s national team. Hayes plans to leave the Women’s Super League club after this season and says the reason is to spend more time with her 5-year-old son. She says “this is a selfless decision. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

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Mandatory Credit: AP Photo/Alysa Rubin, AP Photo/Hamish Blair, AP Photo/Andrew Cornaga, & AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File