In the weeks before the U.S. women’s soccer team left for France and the World Cup tournament, the players mostly presented their usual sunny dispositions as the wider public tuned in for the first time in a while.
Beneath the surface, though, something else was bubbling up.
This team was ready to play angry. Stars and reserves alike wanted to prove wrong the skeptics who believed the reigning champions were about to be toppled from their perch. And, as the icing on the cake, the Americans didn’t take the field until the fifth and final day of group-stage games.
The U.S. team may yet be toppled, but Tuesday’s record-setting, 13-0 rout of Thailand told the world how it really feels.
Yes, the players ran up the score. Yes, they celebrated all of their goals exuberantly. And yes, they annoyed a lot of people. But that’s how this team plays, and how it has played across multiple generations. The same inner fire that the rest of the world calls arrogance is what has fueled the program to three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals.
The means and the end are forever bonded, from Michelle Akers and Brandi Chastain to Abby Wambach and Hope Solo.
Take your complaints about the score to FIFA, which uses goal difference as the first tiebreaker in the group stage standings. And try to figure out another way to settle things that encourages attacking play.
As for the celebrations, sure, plenty of people would have dialed it back at the end. But would you really deny Mallory Pugh the right to celebrate her first World Cup goal, in her first World Cup game, just because it was the 11th of the night?
Perhaps you thought Alex Morgan counting off her five goals was a bit much. Well, guess what: the national team’s biggest poster star also has an ego. She wouldn’t be where she is without it. And while she hasn’t always been as outspoken as others, her voice has grown considerably on and off the field. Morgan doesn’t wear the captain’s armband just for show.
By the way, not nearly as many people are talking about what happened after the final whistle: Carli Lloyd consoling Thai goalkeeper Sukanya Chor Charoenying, Morgan offering encouragement to fellow Cal-Berkeley product Miranda Nild, Megan Rapinoe walking with Orathai Srimanee away from the noise. Nild and Thailand coach Nuengrutai Srathongvian saluted the U.S. team’s play in postgame interviews.
This controversy reminds us of the unparalleled spotlight that a World Cup provides. It had been a while: Tuesday’s game was the first senior-level World Cup contest for any U.S. team in 1,467 days.
America’s standard-bearers didn’t just end the wait, they raised the bar again. We should expect nothing less from them.