USWNT Celebration Controversy Means Little

June 12, 2019 122 Reads

The USWNT steamrolled Thailand on Tuesday. The final score, a ghastly 13-0, is the most lopsided in World Cup history.

Alex Morgan scored five and six other players scored at least one. It was one of the most thorough blowouts in the history of high-level soccer — the USWNT had 40 (40!) shots, 20 of which went on target, compared to Thailand’s total of two. The US kept 73 percent possession. Expected Goal stats for the game are wildly disproportionate.

Reason for controversy?

It would all be more enjoyable if postgame conversation centered on the game itself instead of the controversy surrounding it.

Critics argue that the US celebrated their goals excessively, and shouldn’t have pressed the gas so hard late in the game, with the result virtually assured after the first 20 minutes. Various pundits (and keyboard warriors) expressed concern for the emotional well-being of the embattled Thai players, and cited sports morality platitudes.

Arguments that the US shouldn’t have run up the score, or at least should have relaxed a bit in the second half, are inherently flawed, and have admittedly received less support. Goal differential is the primary group-stage tiebreaker. While it is unlikely that the US won’t win Group F, a calmer 4-0 or 5-0 defeat of Thailand could have jeopardized first-place. Sweden, the US’s most threatening competition, plays Thailand too, and could have stolen first on goal differential with a point against the US. There are practical reasons for winning by as many goals as possible.

The US would arguably show up Thailand even more by passing the ball around and slowing the game down. This is the World Cup. Thailand aren’t there to concede a few goals and then chase Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle around for an hour. The US have earned the right to enjoy an utter disembodiment of an opposing team. Most of those players won’t have another opportunity to pot an easy goal and assist in a World Cup match. Morgan’s New Star Soccer-type scoreline of five goals, three assists puts her in pole position to win the tournament’s Golden Boot already.

In a way, stacking goals is a measure of respect toward a completely overmatched Thai team. It shows that the US treated them as legitimate enough opposition to try all the way through. Thailand can say they went to the World Cup and competed against a full-strength top team.

The celebration controversy is more legitimate. Led by Megan Rapinoe, the US celebrated ecstatically every time they scored. It was a bit excessive, particularly when they reached double digits and went on stretches in which they scored every couple of minutes. There’s no reason to joylessly walk back to the center circle, but they would have been better off leaving it to smiling and high-fiving teammates.

However, it is difficult on the surface to criticize players for celebrating World Cup goals. People taking serious umbrage with the celebrations come off as the Fun Police, similar to curmudgeonly baseball men who lament bat flipping or old Canadians who hate the Carolina Hurricanes. The USWNT debate should not be as big a deal as it is — celebrating important soccer goals is not a major occurrence, unless you blatantly disrespect the other team or do something that extends beyond the simple act of celebration.

The sudden prominence of this controversy only serves to take away from the national team’s accomplishments. Critics who say the US celebrated too much have a point, but a point that means little in the larger context of the World Cup. Life will go on, the US will probably continue to win. None of these debates should have the power to pull away from the actual soccer.

The US play Chile on Sunday.

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