Just so we’re perfectly clear: It was never about the goals, the number of goals that were scored or even how the goals were scored.
Nor was it about lording our supposed moral superiority over our neighbours to the south, and further perpetuating cartoonish characterizations about courteous Canadians and arrogant Americans. (In fact, can we please put to rest this nonsensical stereotype about us being polite and apologetic? There’s plenty of overbearing jerks in Canada, as there are in the U.S., and we don’t have a monopoly on civility).
So, what was it about? The celebrations. It was entirely about the goal celebrations.
The United States thumped Thailand 13-0 at the FIFA Women’s World Cup this week, establishing a new record for most goals in a game. That the reigning champions thrashed Thailand, playing in only its second World Cup and ranked No. 34 in the world, wasn’t a surprise. What was jarring was the way the Americans celebrated as they piled it on.
Case in point. Megan Rapinoe is not a fresh-faced youngster playing in her first international tournament. She’s won a World Cup and an Olympic gold medal, and before the Thailand game had scored 44 goals (including two at previous World Cups) in over 150 appearances for her country. And yet, after scoring to make it 9-0 against Thailand in the 79th minute, Rapinoe, who as a veteran you’d think would know better, celebrated by going on a lengthy run, twirling and pirouetting along the way, before sliding across the pitch and kicking out her leg in front of the jubilant American bench and being mobbed by her teammates.
Rapinoe had every right to celebrate her goal. What she did wasn’t celebrating – it was crass showboating of the highest order. At 9-0, the U.S. had pinned Thailand down to the ground and had their foot on their throats. There was no need to rub their noses into the dirt.
What about sportsmanship, you may be asking yourself? Pffft. Whatever. Leave sportsmanship for those clueless rubes who aren’t serious about winning a World Cup, if we are to believe a small portion of the U.S media that sways towards the click bait and hot take variety of commentary.
“You want the Americans to impose the slaughter rule or patronize their opponents by pretending they didn’t just tack another goal onto the scoreline? Go join the six-year-olds in the park. Maybe you’ll get a participation trophy and an orange slice while you’re at it. This is high-level competition, and the Americans have no reason to apologize for treating it as such,” Nancy Armour wrote in USA Today.
In a subsequent Twitter post, Ms. Armour commented that had the U.S. taken its foot off the gas, it would have been patronizing to Thailand, and thus offensive to the spirit of the game. She’s right. It’s only a shame she couldn’t also spare a few words about sportsmanship, and how the lack of it, as seen in the over-the-top celebrations, is equally offensive to the spirit of the game.
Not to be outdone by Ms. Armour’s jingoistic chauvinism, Fox Sports pundit Alexi Lalas offered this tone-deaf gem: “I hope kids were watching. I hope that those kids learned a lesson that you don’t apologize for being good, not everybody gets a trophy, and we keep score for a reason.”
Honestly, it beggars belief. Look, this is about basic sportsmanship. It isn’t that difficult to understand – or, at least, it shouldn’t be. But they simply don’t get it. More’s the pity.
As for the U.S. players themselves, they took a far more diplomatic approach when asked about their goal celebrations, while at the same time holding firm in their beliefs that they did absolutely nothing wrong.
“If anyone wants to come at our team for not doing the right thing, not playing the right way, not being the right ambassador for the sport, they can come at us,” Rapinoe said. “I think our only crime was an explosion of joy [against Thailand]. If our crime is joy, then we’ll take that.”
It was a sentiment echoed by several national team veterans, including Alex Morgan, who scored five times against Thailand. If nothing else, you have to give Rapinoe and her teammates credit for fully owning their behaviour, rather than backing down and offering insincere apologies in the face of public backlash.
And that’s the point that many seem to be missing in all of this. This is the U.S. national women’s team – this is exactly who they are, who they’ve always been. They are bold and brash. They make no apologies about it. You don’t like it? Tough. Take it or leave it. They have a World Cup to win.
Just as important, the Americans have a point to prove to the U.S. Soccer Federation after 28 players filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the country’s national governing body for soccer. Despite being the best team in the world, the players argue that the USSF discriminates against women by paying them less than members of the U.S. men’s team, even though the women’s side has enjoyed greater international success. Is it any wonder they have such a chip on their shoulder in France?
If you’re waiting to see if the Americans decide to “play nice” in the aftermath of this wave of criticism should they get a chance to run up the score in their next game, against World Cup debutants Chile on Sunday, then you’re in for some serious disappointment. They’re not going to tone it down, not in the least and not ever, and you’d be a fool to expect them to change.
This isn’t a recent development with the Americans. It’s the way it’s always been.
Long-time followers of the U.S. team were disappointed, but certainly not shocked, by the goal celebrations against Thailand. You need only cast your mind back to the Concacaf qualifying tournament for the 2012 Olympics held in Vancouver, when then-U.S. coach Pia Sundhage made a spectacle of herself by racing up and down the touchline while fervently pumping her fist into the air as the American team throttled the Dominican Republic 14-0 and hammered Guatemala 13-0.
It’s interesting to note that the Americans’ exuberant celebrations as they continued to pump in goals against Thailand stood in direct contrast to the German team who scored 11 times against Argentina in the group stage at the 2007 Women’s World Cup. Like the Americans, the Germans didn’t let up, but their post-goal celebrations were muted. Smiles, hugs and high fives all around, and then back to the centre circle. The Germans’ lack of showboating against the hapless South Americans wasn’t a sign of weakness or lack of killer instinct, and nor did it slow down them one bit. Germany went on to repeat as World Cup champions.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat, though. The U.S. team didn’t get to where it is, atop of the heap in women’s soccer, by being demure and showing mercy like the Germans. The team has always played with a sense of ruthlessness. While names and faces in the squad have changed over the years, the ethos has remained the same. The rest of the world might call it arrogance, but to the Americans this is their inner drive that has led them to win three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals.
Now you want them to change? Not on your life. This the U.S national women’s team, unplugged and without filter, as they’ve always been. They don’t need your approval, and they don’t want it. Take them as they are, or move on.