We should be immensely grateful to the United States women’s team for that 13-0 victory over Thailand, and the gross showboating celebrations after each and every goal.
We should express gratitude because the game and the celebratory behaviour emphatically revealed the U.S. women’s team to be what it truly is: overpoweringly good and obnoxious.
It’s all very well to tut-tut in that mildly condescending Canadian way, as Kaylyn Kyle and Clare Rustad did on TSN. Then some Americans reacted with fury and threats. Of course they did. It’s how they behave. They shouldn’t, but they do. Acting surprised about it is a tad disingenuous.
Listen, the U.S. women’s team is going to supersize it, no matter what. Its players will keep scoring goals if they have the chance. When they celebrate, they won’t tone it down as the victory becomes a rout. They will supersize it. It’s what they do; it’s what defines the U.S. culture the team has emerged from. It’s what defines the team.
In women’s soccer the USA is a superpower. A superpower doesn’t dwell on the indignity done to others by unsavoury boasting in victory. America is No. 1 and perpetuating American primacy is job one.
This is not to condemn the team. That would be redundant. There is so much about the American women’s team that’s admirable. The whole world of women’s soccer looks to its players for leadership on issues of pay equity. They’ve fought hard, launched lawsuits and stood up to their own soccer federation. When’s the last time Canadian women’s players stood up to the Canadian Soccer Association? Exactly.
Individual American players are commendable figures. They support progressive causes at home. Megan Rapinoe was the first white professional athlete to take a knee during the U.S. anthem in 2016, in support of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. There are haters who want Rapinoe removed from the women’s team for her perceived lack of patriotism.
But what Rapinoe and colleagues do as progressives is about the USA. It’s an internal thing. Expecting the U.S. women’s team to care about the dignity of Thailand’s players is like expecting Donald Trump to care about the dignity of Thailand’s workers when he’s conducting one of his trade wars. Rapinoe and Trump might be on opposite sides in a culture war, but they are linked by shared belief in American triumphalism.
Part of the problem, always, with these controversies about sporting behaviour, is the widespread but ludicrous belief that it’s about the kids. In Canada there exists in some quarters a catatonically idiotic idea that, not only is it the purpose of sport to teach kids life lessons, but that those lessons should be uplifting. This is, in essence, a belief in the superiority of fiction.
A World Cup, whether it has men or women playing, is not fiction. It’s not actually about lovable underdogs getting their reward, no matter how much some people want to attach that narrative to a tournament. It’s reality and, in reality, sometimes people are awful. They behave badly. Sometimes they win. And when they win they will rub it in, with relish. So learn to lose, and fight another day. It builds character. That’s what kids should take from it all.
What soccer fans can take from that controversial 13-0 victory is that we are still ignorant about the strengths and weaknesses of this U.S. team. An absurd mismatch in quality and then giddy celebration tells us nothing. They’re a team in transition. In recent months playing against top opposition, the USA has leaked goals. It has relied heavily on tactics and formations that look laboured and unimaginative. In the game against Thailand it became clear that coach Jill Ellis loaded the team selection and substitutions with strikers to give them a taste of scoring goals at a World Cup. It was all about motivation, not manoeuvres and tactics on the field.
Disapprove of the cocky celebrations all you want. The only way to defeat American triumphalism is to beat the team, on the field, with goals. That can be done. And it will be savoured all the more.