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This One’s for the Girls

The Unites States Women’s National Team kicked off their 2019 World Cup group stage with a record-breaking win over Thailand 13-0. Time for celebration right? Not so fast (according to some)! What were they thinking, devastating the poor Thai team like that? Why not play keep away, save a few goals, and let Thailand have some dignity?

A few thoughts about that…

An Incredibly Fun Game

This was an incredibly fun game to watch. Who doesn’t like to see goals, and especially goals scored well, from about every possible angle and opportunity and by over half the team? We scored from set pieces, through balls, crosses, headers, build-up, counter-attacks. Other than PKs and corner kicks, we scored from about every place in the attacking third. 7 players scored, setting a record for most individual goal-scorers in a game, and Alex Morgan tied Michelle Akers record for 5 goals in a single game.

Not a Friendly

This wasn’t a friendly. This is the World Cup. Soccer’s biggest possible stage. Germany embarrassed Brazil with a 7-0 defeat in the 2014 Men’s World Cup. I don’t remember anyone criticizing Germany for not letting off the gas after, say, 5 goals. All the criticism was leveled at the (poor) quality of the Brazilian side at the time. I played in a game in college where we set a record with a 21-0 home loss. It was demoralizing, but none of the talk or commiseration after the game was directed at our opponent for running up the score. They were obviously the better team. We knew we were at a different level and needed to make changes. I don’t know any competitive team in a group stage of a tournament that won’t score as many goals as possible. Goal differential matters, so in opening rounds it’s conventional wisdom to run up the score if you have the chance. Sure, in high school and lower levels you might be able to rest players and play the bench, but you don’t have that privilege with limited substitutions at the professional level. Momentum also makes a big difference in tournaments. I coached with a high school team that was seeded next to last. We won the opening game 7-0 and rode the momentum through a district championship all the way to the state 3rd place game. Every tournament is play to win, so why would the World Cup, the biggest tournament in… the world… be different?

Something to Celebrate

This was something to celebrate. Our men’s team failed to qualify for the World Cup last year. It was a crushing blow not to have a World Cup to anticipate to unify our patriotism, when so much of our national narrative has been divisive. With the men’s team also failing to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics, we haven’t had a chance to watch our country play on the world stage since the women’s team flamed out of the same tournament in the quarterfinals. We haven’t tasted substantial victory since winning the 2015 Women’s World Cup a very long four years ago. Our women’s team deserves the chance to make a big impression this year, and they deserve the chance to celebrate. Should they celebrate every single goal? Maybe Morgan shouldn’t have celebrated a hat trick or tying Akers’ record? Perhaps Mewis Lavelle, and Haran, who each made their World Cup debut? Lloyd’s goal in her 3rd consecutive World Cup? Was it “classless” to celebrate? Morgan described it as an “explosion of joy” and that’s an apt description. No celebrations were excessive, directed at Thailand, or in bad taste. It looked like a team giving their all, creating each goal as if it was the first and celebrating out of sheer exhilaration.

What Our Women Can Do

This was a team showing us what our women can do. It isn’t news that our women’s team has enjoyed far more World Cup/soccer success than our men’s team. They have four Olympic gold medals and three World Cup wins. Now they’ve scored more goals in a single World Cup game than our men’s side has scored in the last four World Cups COMBINED. That’s not a small feat. Having grown up with Mia Hamm and Michelle Akers as household names and onto newer dynasties with Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd, to the Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe era and the rising stars in Rose Lavelle and Lindsay Horan, US women’s soccer has a strong legacy and a bright future. I like the passion, enthusiasm, and sports(wo)manship this team brings. I want my daughter to be inspired by these women. I want my sons to admire them.

Beyond the Field

Beyond the field, our women don’t deserve criticism for doing their best. They shouldn’t be told to tone it down. This is a bigger conversation than soccer; it’s about what we understand about “a woman’s place”. Would our men’s team have received the same criticism for a similar result? That’s doubtful (we would have been happy to have had the chance to play, after all, so I hope World Cup 2022 shows us a very hungry men’s team). Do we believe that men and women are equal, or that different rules and expectations apply? There’s a lot of talk about equality, but in our post-#MeToo culture, it’s clear that we value women differently, objectifying them or expecting them to fit certain molds. We need to stand with our women. Let’s celebrate their success. Let’s respect their contributions. Let’s encourage their dreams. Let’s empower their achievement. This isn’t a man’s world. It’s our world, together.