Emma Hayes earns win in USWNT coaching debut; Swanson, Davidson score twice

Emma Hayes began her tenure as U.S. women’s national team head coach with a win. Forward Mallory Swanson and defender Tierna Davison scored two goals a piece to lift the U.S. to a 4-0 win over South Korea in front of 19,010 on Saturday in Commerce City, Colorado.

“I thought we were controlled in what we did in the first half. We stuck to the structures. We stuck to the coaching,” Hayes said on the TNT postgame show. “Everybody did what I asked of them.”

It was Swanson’s first USWNT goals since suffering a torn patellar tendon in April 2023 which kept her out of the World Cup. Meanwhile, center back Davidson recorded just her second and third international career goals.

The fresh start also included switching up the lineup. Hayes started the youngest USWNT starting XI since April 2022 with an average age of 25.5 years and 45 appearances per player.

Swanson back on the score sheet

In the build-up to Saturday’s friendly, Hayes was eager to reveal an encounter she had with Swanson at the 2017 United Soccer Coaches convention in Los Angeles. As the manager tells it, she was trying to recruit the then-18-year-old to her Chelsea side in the final months before her NWSL debut. Seven years later, she finally has a chance to call upon Swanson — and that long-awaited match of player and coach didn’t need long to yield a goal.

The goal was Swanson’s first for the USWNT since suffering a torn patellar tendon in a 2023 friendly against the Republic of Ireland. It also capped a really encouraging sequence of possession and ball movement, which also required Sophia Smith to utilize her line-leading holdup skillset at the top of the box before threading a well-weighed assist into Swanson’s stride.

Swanson hasn’t had the smoothest of starts to 2024, seemingly still in the final stage of recovery from that knee injury. She didn’t to take a penalty at the SheBelieves Cup final, and had her first spot kick of the NWSL season saved as it lacked her usual shooting power. With a few months of consistent playing time, she looked more like her usual dynamic self on Saturday, working to get behind the South Korean backline and showing good off-ball movement and interplay with Smith and Trinity Rodman throughout the first half.

The second half was more of the same, with Swanson also taking some dangerous set pieces including an assist on one of Davidson’s goals. In the 77th minute, she provided pressure that began a South Korea turnover, then ran into open space in the right channel to receive a great through ball from Rose Lavelle before placing a shot to the far post — her second of the day, and her 34th international goal in 91 senior caps.

Few will need a reminder about just how dangerous Swanson was for her country at the start of 2023. Getting her back among the goals before the Olympics feels like a win all its own. Hayes will hope that it’ll set Swanson up for the type of big tournament performance at the Olympics that she was robbed of enjoying at last summer’s World Cup.

— Jeff Rueter

Davidson records first USWNT brace

Davidson scored twice, tripling her international career goals in one game. Her first, and until this friendly only, goal was in 2018 against Chile. Both of her goals were from headers on corner kicks, the first delivered by Catarina Macario and the second delivered by Swanson. Davidson was stationed at the back post for both.

“We are changing a lot different of things, so I think there was a lot of new information and we just wanted to commit to what we were given and execute it,” Davidson said when asked about practicing set pieces more under Hayes. “I think we did a good job.”

None of Davidson’s teammates seemed all that surprised by the headers though. Set pieces were obviously a part of their preparation, and Davidson in particular was a clear back post target throughout.

— Steph Yang

Hayes’ player rotation

Hayes has stressed how important it is for players on her roster to have the ability to play multiple positions on the pitch, so it’s not surprising players are already showing glimpses of this type of versatility and creativity under her leadership. It’s also important for Hayes to test as many players as she can in the two friendlies against South Korea, especially as the manager looks ahead to this summer’s Olympics, which only features an 18-player roster.

While the first half saw no changes for the U.S. or South Korea, Hayes switched in a total of six players in the second half. Casey Krueger, Jaedyn Shaw, Sam Staab, Lavelle, Crystal Dunn and Korbin Albert all subbed into the game. The only players to stay in the full match were Jenna Nighswonger and Naomi Girma in the back, Jane Campbell in goal and Swanson up top. While at NJ/NY Gotham FC, Nighswonger has proven her flexibility by rotating between positions in her two seasons with the club, earning NWSL Rookie of the Year in 2023. And Girma, who wore the captain’s armband when Lindsey Horan was sent off for Albert, has established herself as a backbone of the backline.

—Melanie Anzidei

USWNT honors Pride Month, Albert booed again

Before starting her postgame interview with TNT, Hayes made a point to acknowledge the reason the USWNT wore rainbow-themed numbers on the back of their shirts.

“First of all I want to say Happy Pride month,” Hayes said. “I only learned that was today.”

U.S. Soccer has partnered with LGBTQ+ charity You Can Play Project for the sixth consecutive year to “celebrate and support the LGBTQ+ community during Pride Month in June,” the federation said.

As part of the partnership, the U.S. women’s and men’s teams will wear jerseys with rainbow-themed numbers inspired by Pride during the matches in June. Signed jerseys from each member of the two teams will go up for auction on Friday, May 31 through U.S. Soccer, with all proceeds going to the You Can Play Project, which works to “help promote a safe and inclusive environment for the LGBTQ+ community,” U.S. Soccer said in a press release.

One of the auction pages set up is for USWNT midfielder Albert, who shared anti-LGBTQ+ content on social media and subsequently apologized earlier this year after pressure from past and present USWNT players, including Megan Rapinoe.

Boos from the crowd were audible in the stadium and on the broadcast after the announcer mentioned Albert’s name when she came on for Horan in the 71st minute.

“I want to sincerely apologize for my actions on social media,” she wrote in part on Instagram in March. “Liking and sharing posts that are offensive, insensitive and hurtful was immature and disrespectful which was never my intent.”

Albert, 20, is a midfielder with French Division 1 Féminine club Paris Saint-Germain. She was part of the USWNT’s squad for the CONCACAF W Gold Cup and SheBelieves tournaments in addition to this month’s friendlies.

“We want to create an environment that’s tolerant, that’s respectful, that’s inclusive, but I want to make sure when our players come and play and they represent the national team. I want you to know that I will always make sure I educate and do the right things in the background to make sure everybody adheres to that,” Hayes said after the game. “I want to make sure our players, when they come out and play for us they feel supported by all of us. For me that’s really really important. Happy Pride everyone.”

(Photo: Brad Smith/Getty Images)

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