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US players are excited about a fresh start under new coach Emma Hayes after a difficult year

Although Emma Hayes hasn't yet assumed her new role as coach of the U.S. women's national team, she's been involved behind the scenes as the team wraps up a turbulent year and looks forward to an eventful 2024.

Hayes is currently coaching Chelsea in the Women's Super League and won't join the United States until May, a short time before the Americans play in the Paris Olympics.

She visited the team last week as they prepared for a pair of exhibition matches against China. The U.S. defeated the Steel Roses 3-0 in the first match on Saturday in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The second match is set for Tuesday in Frisco, Texas.

Hayes' fresh perspective is welcomed, especially after the United States was eliminated from the Women's World Cup this summer by Sweden. The Round of 16 exit was the earliest ever for the four-time World Cup champions.

"I think we'll learn a lot from her and she'll learn a lot from us," defender Emily Fox said.

Hayes consulted with interim coach Twila Kilgore and U.S. Soccer Sporting Director Matt Crocker on the team's roster for the final two games of the year. The U.S. left veterans Alex Morgan, Crystal Dunn, Becky Sauerbrunn and Alyssa Naeher off the squad in favor of taking a look at younger players.

“This camp is — honestly, we've been saying it's kind of starting fresh because of the World Cup and everything. Emma, being able to meet her, and obviously having new faces in camp, younger faces," forward Trinity Rodman said after Saturday's game. "I think it's just building an understanding, creating an identity and executing a game plan.”

Defender Naomi Girma echoed the sentiment that Hayes' arrival is something of a fresh start.

“We feel like we have our direction. We know what we’re building towards now, and it’s all very clear. I think overall we’re just excited to hit the ground running with her," Girma said.

After the lackluster performance by the Americans at the Women's World Cup, U.S. Soccer parted ways with coach Vlatko Andonovski. Kilgore, one of his assistants, was named interim coach. Hayes was appointed last month.

Kilgore's role will continue a bit longer than expected because of Hayes' obligation to Chelsea. But Kilgore will continue on as an assistant under Hayes.

“There's definitely a sense of belonging where the group is really excited to get back together and integrate some of the new players; and also a lot of excitement and a really new feeling just having Emma around,” Kilgore said. “She has been focused on player relationships and starting to get to know them and I've been focused on the day-to-day and it's been a good mix.”

Following the matches against China, the U.S. players will get a break before the first women's CONCACAF Gold Cup. Then it's on to the Olympics in July. The United States has qualified for both tournaments.

The desire is to put 2023 in the past.

“There’s so much talent in the team and I don’t think the world has seen enough of it yet, because we need to go out and show it, we need to be able to mesh together and show everything that we have and what we’re all about, and how we can really collaborate and play together and be more of a team and be a powerhouse again," captain Lindsey Horan said. “So it’s gonna be exciting for us to have (Hayes) and see what she can do with this team and how she can help us improve moving forward.”

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

Anne M. Peterson, The Associated Press