Emma Hayes comes to USWNT as a five-peat WSL champion at Chelsea

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 18: Emma Hayes the head coach / manager of Chelsea Women celebrates during the Barclays Women's Super League match between Manchester United and Chelsea FC  at Old Trafford on May 18, 2024 in Manchester, England.(Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)
Emma Hayes celebrates one of Chelsea's six goals in a Women's Super League title-clinching win over Manchester United at Old Trafford. Her next stop? The USWNT. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt/AMA/Getty Images)

Emma Hayes will arrive in America next week, and at her first training camp in charge of the U.S. women's national team, as a five-time reigning champion of the English Women's Super League.

Hayes, who was tabbed as the incoming USWNT coach in November, topped off a remarkable 12-year run at Chelsea with a title-clinching 6-0 trouncing of Manchester United on Saturday, the final day of the WSL season.

Chelsea entered the day level on points with Manchester City, and two ahead on goal differential, the first tiebreaker. With City playing simultaneously at Aston Villa, Hayes and Chelsea fans strapped in for what many expected to be a tense two hours.

But in an emphatic first half, the Blues banged in four goals, and effectively buried both Manchester clubs in 45 minutes. In the second half, they added two more to send Hayes off in style.

It had been an emotional week for the 47-year-old Englishwoman. Tears welled in her eyes and weakened her voice during interviews. She had gifted a set of commemorative, personalized rings to her players. Engraved on the rings were the year she arrived at Chelsea, "2012," when she took over an underfunded part-time team; and "2024," the year she'll leave it as the dominant force in British women's soccer.

Also engraved prominently on each ring were the words "WHAT GOT US HERE" — a reference to the motto by which Hayes coaches: "What got us here won't get us there."

The slogan defined both her perpetual evolution at Chelsea and, now, her task in America.

It rang truer than ever during her final weeks and months in London. Her talismanic striker, Sam Kerr, went down with a torn ACL in January. Kerr's replacement, Mayra Ramirez, signed for a club-record fee from Levante, also battled injuries throughout the spring, as the WSL title race tightened. And Hayes entered a pivotal final month without her most dynamic playmaker, Lauren James, who was sidelined by a foot injury.

Hayes and her team, however, adapted. They recovered after losing a May 1 heartbreaker to Liverpool. They won at Tottenham on Wednesday to level up with City atop the table. Hayes then made a massive call ahead of Saturday's decider: She started Ramirez, who hadn't played in over a month. Ramirez rewarded her coach's faith, bullying Man United defenders, bossing the first half, scoring twice and assisting two others.

Hayes, sporting a track jacket and custom Chelsea shoes, pumped her fists, repeatedly and euphorically, as the goals flew in, one after another.

She gestured toward the thousands of Chelsea fans who'd traveled to Old Trafford in Manchester.

The entire afternoon was a perfect encapsulation of who she is and what she's done.

"She's quite the character," Chelsea and U.S. forward Catarina Macario said last month. "But, yeah, I mean, she's just a serial winner."

And this, Hayes said, was "the best title" of all. She almost found it unbelievable. "Because we're not stupid, we know we weren't at our best [this season]. But for us to win a title — wow, like, I'm sorry, I don't think you guys realize how hard it is to win and win and win and win ... ."

It was her seventh in the WSL, and last of five in a row. At the final whistle, she embraced her coaching staff, and then, one by one, her players. Captain and defender Millie Bright was the first. Bright teared up as they hugged, and kissed Hayes on the side of the head. Minutes later, assistants sprayed champaign as golden streamers descended and Hayes lifted the trophy.

Her time for celebrations, though, will be brief.

"I'm having one night," she said Saturday. On Sunday, she's throwing a birthday party for her 6-year-old son, Harry. On Monday, her focus will shift.

On Tuesday, she has a call with U.S. Soccer leadership. On Wednesday, she'll fly to New York. On Thursday, she'll speak to U.S. media. On Friday, she'll fly to Denver to meet with her new USWNT staff. Somewhere in between, she'll name her first U.S. roster, which will gather in Colorado the following Monday, May 27, less than two months before the Olympics.

"And listen," Hayes said Saturday, "they deserve my full attention, and they will get that from me."

She'll then coach her first U.S. game, a friendly vs. South Korea on June 1. After a second game June 4, perhaps, she'll get a chance to breathe.

And she'll welcome it. She needs it. She loved leading Chelsea, but "it's taken its toll on me," she said. "I categorically cannot carry on, so I am absolutely leaving at the right time. I don't have another drop to give."

Or, at least, she had none left for Chelsea. Her role at the helm of the club was far more intensive than her soon-to-be role with the USWNT.

"There's so much to [a club] job," she said. "It's not just [games], t's dealing with people. When you deal with people, I set such high standards for myself. Maintaining that has become impossible. I can't keep up with the demands from players on a daily basis, in terms of their emotional needs, in terms of everything, and I found that to be grueling this year, to be honest with you."

So she is ready for her next journey, which does not sound exhausting.

"It's not tiring thinking about going to an Olympics, is it?" she said. "It's different, a different energy. I'll feel reinvigorated and re-energized with something else. Sometimes, people think you need a rest; sometimes you just need a change."