Mallory Swanson stars as USWNT defeats South Korea in Emma Haye’s debut

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Emma Hayes began her long-awaited tenure as coach of the U.S. women’s national soccer team with a 4-0 win over South Korea on Saturday.

But no matter how much energy Brit will inject into a program that needs new direction after last year’s World Cup flop, the players will determine how successful she can be. And perhaps no player welcomes the future – and the Paris Olympics in particular – more than Mallory Swanson.

After missing the World Cup with a serious knee injury, the Coloradan continues to position himself for a glorious return to the world stage with unpredictable moves and ruthless scoring ability. In front of a sold-out crowd of 19,010 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Swanson scored in each half – her first international goals since tearing her patellar tendon 14 months ago – as the fourth-ranked Americans began their Olympic countdown with a strong performance against No. 20 South Korea in Hayes’ debut.

Swanson opened the scoring in the 34th minute with an elegant run and one-timer from 12 yards, set up by fellow Coloradan Sophia Smith. In the 74th, Swanson collected Rose Lavelle’s pass and scored in the far corner.

Tierna Davidson, a defender who had scored once in her previous 57 appearances, scored on headers from corners in the 38th and 48th minutes – the first delivered by Catarina Macario, the second by Swanson.

The teams will clash again on Tuesday in St. Paul, Minnesota – the final test before Hayes announces her Olympic squad of 18 women and four alternates at the end of this month. The Americans, who have not won Olympic gold since 2012, will prepare for Paris by playing tune-ups against Mexico on July 13 in Harrison, N.J., and against Costa Rica on July 16 at Audi Field.

Hayes’ journey was a long one. Although she’s from England, she paid her coaching dues in the United States – in boys’ and girls’ youth circles in greater New York, at Iona University and with Women’s Professional Soccer, the precursor to the NWSL.

Hayes flourished at Chelsea, winning 16 trophies in 12 seasons, including seven first division titles. She ended her Chelsea career in glorious fashion two weeks ago as the Blues won the league title for their fifth successive championship on the final day of the season.

Hayes agreed to the American job in November on the condition she finish the season with Chelsea and stay close to her family after her father’s death last fall. The stakes are high for the U.S. Soccer Federation — it has made Hayes the highest-paid women’s coach in the world — but it’s about the long term.

Without much time to work with the team, Hayes’ Olympic expectations are tempered. Her broader goal is to position the program to win the 2027 World Cup in Brazil. The rebuilding comes at a time when global competition in women’s football is increasing; Spain won its first World Cup last summer and England won its first European crown two years ago.

Between the ouster of Vlatko Andonovski and the arrival of Hayes, interim coach Twila Kilgore guided the team to a 10-1-3 record. During her time, Kilgore worked closely with Hayes on squad selection and tactical plans. Kilgore, an Andonovski assistant, will be part of Hayes’ staff.

Hayes said she didn’t see a need for a seismic shift to the American setup, but over the past six months several prospects have been invited to camps and young players have inherited prominent roles. New leadership has also helped to set aside the somber atmosphere that followed the World Cup disappointment.

Hayes also said she had no loyalty to specific players; in other words, the spots on the Olympic roster are wide open.

Her first lineup reflected that: veterans Lavelle, Alex Morgan, Crystal Dunn and Emily Sonnett were on the bench. Casey Murphy, the presumed starter in goal with Alyssa Naeher sidelined through injury, conceded to Jane Campbell, the 2023 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year, who made her first start since October 2021.

Hayes selected left back Jenna Nighswonger, the 2023 NWSL rookie of the year, and Macario, her former Chelsea student, who had not appeared in the US lineup since April 2022 due to knee injuries.

The line-up was partly influenced by another friendly Tuesday. Hayes made one change at half-time and four 15 minutes later, including the use of Dunn at right wing. Dunn has been the USA’s premier left back for years, but is a forward in the NWSL.

Comments: The South Korean lineup featured Casey Phair, a 16-year-old forward from New Hampshire and New Jersey who plays for Angel City in the NWSL. She played 58 minutes. Last summer she became the youngest man or woman to participate in a World Cup match. …

Center back Sam Staab, 27, made her American debut as a substitute in the second half. …

In its first home game in program history, the U.S. women’s deaf team defeated Australia 11-0 to improve to 38-0-1 overall. All previous matches came in tournaments abroad. Emily Spreeman scored a hat-trick in each half. Gallaudet University graduate Sabina Shysh scored her first international goal.

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