The World Cup is a worldwide event. It pins the most athletic, cunning and powerful teams across the globe against each other to determine international dominance. A field of 24 teams is slowly whittled down to just two final championship contenders, with only one emerging victorious. The United States Women’s National Team always draws major attention due to their dynamic play and their proven track record. After winning the World Cup in 2015, they knew there would be a huge target on their backs. Despite advancing to the finals yet again, the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) has found themselves in the spotlight for everything except for their play.
The USWNT’s first game brought about the original source of criticism against the reigning champions. USA opened their quest for a repeat title facing off against Thailand. The USWNT were heavy favorites and for good reason. According to FIFA, USWNT are ranked #1 in the world; however, Thailand’s team is much lower ranked coming in at #34. Everyone was expecting a victory for the USWNT, but the fashion in which Thailand was defeated angered some.
The USWNT defeated Thailand 13-0. The USWNT continued to score all game long from the 12th minute all the way into extra time. Some fans were angered by not only the USWNT’s celebrations despite the large lead but also the fact they kept scoring even when it was clear victory would be evident. The USA had the ball for 73% of the game and had 38 more shots. It was clear by halftime that the inevitable would ensue. A few fans and analysts disapproved of the rout of Thailand, but they simply are missing the big picture.
In soccer, goal differential matters. Not only are you trying to outscore and dominate your opponent, but also you are trying to make that margin of victory as wide as possible. That margin can make all the difference in the end. Why take anything for chance? If the USWNT would have held back and not scored the maximum amount, they are both wasting potential and risking a hurtful blow later if they don’t have a high enough differential. Also, unlike most sports, soccer has limited substitutions. These women sacrifice everything to make it to the world’s biggest stage. It’s insulting to tell them to just dribble around or waste time once subbed in simply because the other team is inferior. The subbed-in players work just as hard as the starters, and they deserve the chance to showcase their own talents and possibly earn more time because of their skill. Some Thailand players even took to social media offering thanks to the USWNT afterwards; the most notable was Thailand’s goalkeeper Sukanya Chor Charoenying.
Charoenying, after the brutal loss, posted a picture on Twitter of her with Carli Lloyd with a comment stating, “Thanks so much, Lloyd. Your words that you told me make me strong. Keep going for this tournament and so on. Firstly, I felt disappointment in worst situation but this is the biggest experience in my life.” She understood the USWNT were the much better team, and she accepted the loss with grace and dignity. She could have lashed out or chastised the USWNT, but she was honored to play on the world’s biggest stage and to compete against the best team in the world. The USWNT was simply that much better, and they capitalized against a weaker opponent. Thailand isn’t pouting; rather, they are using the game as a momentum booster for the future and as an opportunity to learn and grow both individually and as a team. The other main wave of complaints came after Alex Morgan’s “sipping tea” celebration following the USWNT’s victory over England.
Morgan scored the decisive goal in the 31st minute of Tuesday’s 2-1 victory for the USWNT over England; however, it wasn’t the goal that was the focal point; rather, fit was the celebration afterwards that sparked media attention. Morgan imitated the act of sipping tea, which some viewed clearly is either a nod towards the Boston Tea Party or simply just British love of the beverage, and this choice drew backlash. Critics disapproved of the “over-the-top” celebration; this is probably partially fueled by the Thailand game. Much like in the first example of criticism, some players on the USWNT quickly defended the controversial action. Morgan, one example of the vocal stars, was very outspoken after the condemnation of her celebration, and she saw this as an example of a huge double standard.
Noting the differences between men’s and women’s celebrations, Morgan was quick to condemn the gap between them. In an interview with Bleacher Report, Morgan said, “You see men celebrating all over the world in big tournaments, grabbing their sacks or whatever it is. And when I look at sipping a cup of tea, I am a little taken aback by the criticism.” Morgan noticed that there seems to be a notion that women have to be calmer and more reserved in their celebrations, while men can be unrestricted in theirs. Morgan also noted the inspiration came from Sophie Turner, unlike some other notions of the origin of the idea. She deemed her celebration a minor one, but it seems like some want to exaggerate the move. Lianne Sanderson, a former player for England, said, “You can celebrate however you want, but that for me is a bit distasteful.” Another former player, Faye White, said, “I wish I was on the pitch to put in a tackle.” Morgan was defended by multiple teammates, the most notable being Megan Rapinoe.
Rapinoe has been a focal point of the entire World Cup. She was a vocal force in defending the high score count in the Thailand game, and she was one of the first to defend her teammate. Her comments mirror her prior ones following the Thailand victory. In response to Morgan’s celebration, Rapinoe said, “I mean it’s like we’re at the World Cup. What do you want us to do? This is the biggest stage, the biggest moment. I don’t think anyone truly believes that we disrespect the game or our opponents.” Rapinoe is embracing an attitude of fun and excitement around the team’s success. She believes people are blowing this way out of the water. Rapinoe is extremely blunt, and in this situation, she is 100% correct.
I believe we live in a world that is trying everything it can to mitigate losing. We give losers participation trophies, and I’ve even seen some contests where no matter what place you finish, everyone receives the same final prize. What is the incentive to compete? Imagine if every NBA team received a Larry O’ Brien Championship Trophy every season. The NBA Finals become useless. I’m not saying kids should be ruthlessly pitted against each other, but at some point, we need to realize sheltering people from losing is just as bad as having losers. A society where everyone doesn’t lose is a society where no one wins. In everything in life, someone must win, and someone must lose. The USWNT is exemplifying this well.
The USWNT has put in hundreds of hours of preparation and hard work; moreover, they deserve the success associated with it. They are celebrating because after climbing that tall mountain of training and sacrifice, they have finally reached the top: worldwide dominance. They are dominating their opponents and asserting their power world-wide. If Rapinoe and Morgan were bullying or berating their opponents, I completely see the argument towards censoring celebrations or even levying sanctions. Rather, these powerful women are enjoying the glory that comes from years of hard work. They deserve this moment and all the fun that goes with it. They don’t mean any ill-will or negativity on their opponents; rather, they are just enjoying the moment. Isn’t this extremely detrimental towards teams like England or Thailand? Actually, no, and I’d even make the argument it can be a powerful positive for them.
England and Thailand will remember these moments for years to come. These celebrations will be seared into their brains and serve as motivation for future tournaments. They are motivated by the sting of failure, and they will be driven to work even harder to reach their goals. In a world with no celebrations, the loss may simply fade from memory. These powerful moments of celebration are impactful examples of imagery, and will propel both teams to new success. Whether you play for Thailand, who were just honored to be there, or for England, who had a realistic title chance, these celebrations will fuel the desire to come back stronger than ever and knock off the goliaths staring right back at you.
The USWNT has dedicated themselves to success, and they have achieved that and more. They have the chance this weekend to do something few will every do: win not one World Cup, but two back-to-back. If they celebrate, we shouldn’t be chastising them; moreover, we need to realize celebrations are the emotional reward for a job extremely well done. Simply put, if you don’t like them celebrating, try this: beat them.