As the debate continued back home over the U.S. women’s soccer team’s exuberant World Cup goal celebrations, stars Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan left no doubt about the team’s view during a visit to Fox’s studio set in Paris on Thursday.
They wanted to send a message in their 13-0 blowout of Thailand, and it came through loud and clear.
“I feel like we were pent up,” Rapinoe said. “That sort of explosion of joy was very genuine for us. And honestly, I think we needed it. I think our leadup [to the World Cup] had been heavy, everything off the field, all the pressure that’s on us all the time.”
Rapinoe’s celebration after scoring the Americans’ eighth goal, a slide in front of her team’s bench players, drew some of the fiercest criticism from viewers who thought it was over the top.
But as with so much of what the U.S. team does, there was an intent to it.
"Obviously everyone wants to play, and there’s players on that bench that might not see the field in this tournament,” she said. “So, to bring everyone in and have that feeling on the first day, which was the last match day [of the start of the group stage], was really important for us and something that was special for us.”
Rapinoe made sure to note that “obviously, we have the utmost respect for all of the opponents that we play, and we will continue to do so for ever and ever.” That was proven by the Americans’ interactions with Thai players after the final whistle. They also know that Thailand’s team respected how the Americans played, which matters most.
But there’s no doubt that setting a World Cup scoring record only grows the bulls-eye on the reigning champions’ back. Rapinoe, a 13-year national team veteran, is ready for it.
“I think we always have a target on our back no matter what,” Rapinoe said." I think we do an incredible job as a team of embracing and smiling through that. ... In the mixed zone after the [Thailand] game, it was like, ‘Does this make a statement?’ or whatever. I was like, ‘I don’t know if we need to make a statement.’ People are already coming after us for every reason, not just because we won in Canada [in 2015]."
Morgan also had plenty to say to the Americans’ critics.
“We had a pretty dominating performance, and of course someone’s going to find something to talk negatively about,” she opined.
She made it clear that the team has already moved on from Thailand to its next game, against Chile on Sunday at Paris’ fabled Parc des Princes (noon, Fox and Telemundo).
"It’s game one of seven. We have to close that chapter regardless of how much the media and everyone wants to talk about game one,” Morgan said, rolling her eyes along the way. “This is incremental in the grand scheme of things.”
Toward the end, Rapinoe lined up one more shot: at FIFA, the sport’s global governing body, for not putting enough of its billions of dollars in revenue into women’s soccer worldwide.
“If you want the field to be better top to bottom, we can’t do that by playing that [other] team - we’re just out here playing as well as we can,” Rapinoe said. “Obviously, our federation supports us very well. But for me personally, I think it’s on FIFA to invest a lot more money and mandate to all these federations around the world to invest in their women’s programs, not just from a financial standpoint but from a manpower standpoint as well.”