The USWNT wins their opening game at the World Cup

My thoughts on the controversy surrounding the USWNT's mammoth win.

Credit to Girls Soccer Network.

Credit to Girls Soccer Network.

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The best sports event of all time is upon us: the FIFA Women’s World Cup. As someone who has been a longtime super-fan of the USWNT, I’m very excited for this tournament. My love of the World Cup goes back a decade. I’ve met Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly, I have a signed and framed Abby Wambach poster in my room, I’ve cried when the team has won World Cups and Olympics, and I’ve cried when the team has lost World Cups and Olympics. For all my excitement, this is the first World Cup in eight years that I don’t have much confidence in the USWNT to win the whole tournament. The rest of the world, especially France and Germany, is catching up, and many of the teams are proving themselves to be strong contenders. However, after the American’s opening game against 34th ranked Thailand, my confidence has been restored a bit.

The 2015 champions had an explosive opening game on Tuesday, making a statement that they are here to defend their title. They triumphed Thailand 13-0, which was the largest margin of victory in World Cup history. However, there was also a lot of criticism that came along with the win. Let me explain why this criticism is unfair.

Photo credit to Washington Post.

Many are saying that it was wrong of the U.S. to continue scoring against Thailand when they were already ahead by so many goals. But they had every right to do so. As Alexi Lalas, former soccer player and FOX commentator, said (and I’m paraphrasing), “This is the World Cup. They aren’t here to make friends; they’re here to win.” This is very true. The USWNT wanted to make a statement that they’re a force to be reckoned with, and they sure did. Just because Thailand is a weak program doesn’t mean the U.S. had to go lightly on them. They treated them as they would any another team, which is actually quite respectful when you think about.

As I said above, respect was a key component of their win because continuing to score against a losing team is a sign of respect. I used to play soccer, and from my experience (travel soccer, not quite World Cup-level), there’s no worse feeling than when a much better team clearly stops trying. It makes you feel like a fool because it’s so blatantly obvious that they’re so good that they can still beat you without putting any effort into it. Thailand’s manager recognized this. He said after the game, “In football, everybody is following the rules, so our opponent is trying their best. The U.S. team was very good. We don’t have any excuse and we accept that they are better.” There you have it.

Perhaps the most important reason that teams want to score as much as possible is because of goal differentiation. If there’s a tie in the group stage, then the first thing that’ll be looked at is which team scored more goals and won by larger margins. So, let’s say that the US and Sweden beat their first two opponents (expected) and tie in their game. In order to decide which team has won the group, they’ll look at goal differentiation as the deciding factor. As it’s unlikely that Sweden will be able to catch up to their goals, the USWNT would win the group in this hypothetical matchup. It’s simple and the biggest reason why every goal counts.

Photo credit to Yahoo! Sports.

One of the biggest criticisms that people had of the team was that their celebrations after each goal were extreme and unnecessary. I disagree. Scoring a goal in the World Cup is a HUGE accomplishment, and anybody would be so proud of themselves and their teammates. Lindsey Horan, Mal Pugh, Sam Mewis, and Rose Lavelle all scored their first World Cup goals ever, so it’s no surprise that they’d want to celebrate. Alex Morgan possibly claimed the Golden Boot in just that one game, and her incredible, record-breaker performance was worthy of excitement. And Carli Lloyd, hero of 2015 and one of the best players of all-time, is playing in her last World Cup, so there’s a huge chance that her 91st minute goal was the final of her World Cup career. It was so obvious how badly she wanted to score, and when she did in the final minutes of the goal, it was just perfect.

Unless you too are a professional athlete playing on the world stage, you have no right to criticize the USWNT for continuously scoring and passionately celebrating their goals. Their entire lives have led to this tournament. They have a right to be happy.