Chelsea Women had created a frenzy. On , the English club released a statement saying their coach Emma Hayes was leaving at the end of the season to “pursue a new opportunity outside of the Women’s Super League and club football.” Hayes had just entered her second decade in charge of the club, and few knew where she would land next.
That same day The Athletic, among others, reported that Hayes’ next job would be with the U.S. women’s national team, leading a four-time World Cup and Olympic gold medal-winning program into a new era. On , U.S. Soccer made her appointment official. Hayes, who previously won six WSL titles in England, will become the 10th full-time coach of the U.S., but not until her final season with Chelsea is complete next May. Sporting director Matt Crocker made the final decision to hire Hayes after a search process that began in August, following the team’s surprising exit in the round of 16 at the World Cup and the subsequent departure of head coach Vlatko Andonovski.
“She has tremendous energy and an insatiable will to win,” U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone said in a statement. “Her experience in the USA, her understanding of our soccer landscape and her appreciation of what it means to coach this team makes her a natural fit for this role and we could not be more pleased to have her leading our women’s national team forward.”
Though Hayes is seen as one of the world’s top coaches in women’s soccer, the appointment still comes as something of a surprise. Here’s how the deal got done.
Details of the deal
At least part of the surprise surrounding Hayes’ hire – and the six-month runway before she officially takes charge – is down to U.S. Soccer’s own messaging. Crocker, in a meeting with U.S. reporters along with Cone and U.S. Soccer CEO J.T. Batson, said he hoped to have a new head coach in place by December.
But the initial contact with Hayes was made a couple of months ago, early into the search, with all three top-level executives from U.S. Soccer involved in those talks. The trio also described the interview process to journalists in that meeting – a U.S. soccer statement describes it as involving “psychometrics and abstract reasoning tests, in-depth discussions of strategy, coaching philosophy and the current player pool, as well as evaluation on the reactions to pressure, culture-building and interactions with players and staff.” USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter went through a similar process, including an abstract reasoning test, when he was re-hired by Crocker earlier in 2023.
The hiring process included multiple rounds of evaluation, with the list of candidates becoming smaller each time. The first pass was driven purely by data, which was then whittled down to a double-digit list Crocker was considering as of , and then a final shortlist, which also included Tony Gustavsson, head coach of Australia. Multiple sources confirmed both Hayes and Gustavsson flew to the U.S. for interviews.
One source who was briefed on the situation said the federation had also checked in on the availability of Sarina Wiegman, despite clear messaging from both the English FA and Wiegman herself in August. “I’m staying out of it. I’ve heard it (from the press officer) but no, I’m with England and I’m really happy with England, and I have a contract until 2025,” Wiegman said. A representative from her camp declined to comment for this story.
Crocker said in that the final interviews would include lengthy technical and tactical assessments, as well as questions to determine the candidates’ cultural fit. He and the federation stayed fairly consistent on their desired start date since the head coach role opened in , but that became one of the major concessions made by U.S. Soccer in selecting HayesEmma Hayes as the 10th full-time head coach in #USWNT history » https://t.co/sR7qfSnWVx Welcome, Emma! ChelseaHayes will remain exclusively with Chelsea through the end of their WSL campaign and the Champions League season. She will not work with the U.S. in international windows.
“I’m here until the end,” she said in her press conference on . “I haven’t died, I haven’t gone anywhere. I’m here, doing this job. My full focus and attention is on what I do for Chelsea.”Hayes could be tied up with Chelsea as late as if the London club makes the Champions League final; notably, an international window that would theoretically be Hayes’ first in charge begins just two days later, on .
However, there are ways in which the arrangement will benefit U.S. Soccer. The federation won’t owe any compensation to Chelsea, and Hayes will be fully committed to the program, with a move to Chicago in the works for next year following the completion of her time in London. Eventually, she’s expected to relocate to Atlanta thanks to U.S. Soccer’s planned combined headquarters and national training facility in Georgia. As of yet, there’s no targeted date set for the move.
Hayes, too, will benefit in ways other than compensation and prestige. She spoke to reporters about looking forward to spending more time with her five-year-old son, Harry. She has never been to one of his sports days, picked him up from school or taken him to an after-school club and she wants to do that.
The main visible wrinkle in the process was Chelsea’s surprise move of announcing Hayes’ departure on . With the contract not yet finalized and U.S. Soccer board approval still needed, Chelsea
issued their statement at 11 a.m. ET in the U.S. in which it noted she would leave at the end of the season “to pursue a new opportunity outside of the WSL and club football.” The club feared that the news was starting to leak and wanted to share the news on its own. This began the race to confirm Hayes had been selected as the USWNT head coach.
Talks between U.S. Soccer and Hayes’ representatives continued even after Chelsea’s press release. The federation’s board convened late on to approve the selection, even without the final details of the contract settled or signed.
At the end of it all, the sides have agreed to a deal that will make Hayes the highest-paid women’s football coach in the world — though her salary is not tied to equal compensation with Berhalter. While her salary is in the same range as the USMNT head coach, it’s thought to be a reflection of the market value for Hayes. With reports that Chelsea was prepared to quadruple her salary to keep her, Hayes herself danced around the details in her first media availability with the club.
“I believe in private conversations,” she said. “Of course, I’m disappointed to hear things being said in the press. I want to make sure I maintain my own professionalism in everything I do.”U.S. Soccer’s annual financial reports reveal the salaries of their head coaches and other executives. While Berhalter received a new contract this year, his previous deal that ran from April 2021 to March 2022, earned him $1.6 million, including $300,000 in bonuses. During that same time, Andonovski earned $446,495, of which only $50,000 was bonus money. With Hayes expected to earn close to $2 million per year in her deal, this will likely create a knock-on effect for other international women’s coaches negotiating their next contracts. U.S. Soccer’s rollout of their new head coach has not been an easy one for the federation’s communications staff, considering that Hayes is essentially unavailable for any formal ceremonies or media appearances until her time with Chelsea is complete.
“This is a huge honor to be given the opportunity to coach the most incredible team in world football history,” she said in a statement on . “The feelings and connection I have for this team and for this country run deep. I’ve dreamed about coaching the USA for a long time so to get this opportunity is a dream come true. I know there is work to do to achieve our goals of winning consistently at the highest levels. To get there, it will require dedication, devotion and collaboration from the players, staff and everyone at the U.S. Soccer Federation.”Looking ahead for the USWNTHayes’ appointment will have an immediate impact, even if …