The U.S. national team’s opening game Tuesday in the World Cup left little room to dispute that it will be a major force in the tournament. However, the 13-0 rout of Thailand did spark a debate over whether the American players did too much celebrating of their many goals.
While there were differences of opinion about at which point it became unsporting to continue the displays of exhilaration, many cited Megan Rapinoe’s tally that gave the U.S. a 9-0 lead in the 79th minute.
The 33-year-old winger, serving as team captain Tuesday, followed her score by joyously twirling and sliding to the turf before joining teammates on the sideline for an ecstatic group hug.
For at least a few observers, that was too much, let alone the ensuing celebrations after the U.S. pushed its lead into double digits.
Some of the sharpest criticism came from current and former members of the Canadian national team, including Clare Rustad, who called the displays “disgraceful.” Speaking on TSN’s World Cup show, Rustad told viewers that she “would have hoped they could have won with humility and grace, but celebrating goals eight, nine and 10 the way they were doing was really unnecessary.”
TSN host Kate Beirness said that while Rapinoe “has scored countless goals on the international stage,” the veteran player “was celebrating like she had her first.” Beirness also dinged Alex Morgan for “counting out” her five goals Tuesday, calling that “just unacceptable.”
“I’m all about passion, and I think, as a Canadian, we would just never, ever think of doing something like that,” former player Kaylyn Kyle said. " . . . For me, it’s disrespectful, it’s disgraceful."
Canada’s Diana Matheson, who is sitting out the tournament with an injury, was also on the panel, and she acknowledged that “you’re not going to hold back” in the World Cup, while positing that “maybe they have an internal target [for goals] they want to meet.”
Still, Matheson asserted that U.S. Coach Jill Ellis should be “embarrassed."
Asked specifically about the Canadian criticism on Wednesday, Morgan said it would have been “disrespectful to the Thai team” if the Americans had let up.
“And for the celebrations, these are goals that we have dreamed of our entire life,” Morgan told ESPN. “I mean, I’m gonna celebrate Mal Pugh’s goal, I’m gonna celebrate Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle. This is their first World Cup and I’m so proud of them, and I couldn’t have dreamed of scoring five goals in a World Cup. So it’s incredible for us all, and I’m happy just ignoring those comments.”
A former U.S. men’s team player, ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman, also cited Rapinoe’s goal in tweeting that the celebrations left “a sour taste in my mouth.” He added, “Curious to see if anyone apologizes for this,” but emphasized that he had “0.0 problem” with the number of goals scored.
Arlo White, a native of England who announces Premier League games for NBC Sports, tweeted that teams should “score as many goals as you possibly can” in the World Cup but “tone down” the “big goal celebrations after 6 or 7.”
ESPN’s Max Bretos, who calls games for MLS’s Los Angeles FC, echoed that sentiment, tweeting, “I would tone down the celebration on the 9th goal, but that’s just me."
Former U.S. star Abby Wambach, however, was having none of it.
“For all that have issue with many goals: for some players this is there first World Cup goal, and they should be excited,” she said on Twitter. “Imagine it being you out there. This is your dream of playing and then scoring in a World Cup. Celebrate.”
The all-time leader among men and women for international goals added, “Would you tell a men’s team to not score or celebrate?”
To a Twitter user who replied to Wambach by complaining about the celebrations, she wrote, “This isn’t rec league soccer. This is THE WORLD CUP!!!!!!!!! Stop judging these women with patriarchal glasses. You would never say this about a men’s team.”
That last assertion by Wambach had former USMNT member Alexi Lalas, now a soccer analyst for Fox Sports, tweeting in response, “Yes, we would.”
He agreed, though, that there should be no quarrels with the celebrations, joking on Twitter that they should only stop at goal No. 27.
However, Lalas also suggested that by “beating Thailand 13-0 & celebrating each goal,” the USWNT “may have lost fans, domestically & internationally … and sealed themselves as villains” of the World Cup.
“I love it. But the soccer gods can be cruel and vindictive,” he added. “If US goes on to fail, their behavior will be on a loop.”
Lalas made similar comments on a Fox Sports World Cup wrap-up show televised from the host nation of France, saying (via Deadspin), “For anybody out there who thinks this U.S. team should have taken its foot off the gas: The U.S. team is not here to be anybody’s friend. The U.S. team is here to win a World Cup."
“The U.S. team, each and every time the whistle blows, is going to score as many goals as possible. And it’s not their problem if they’re playing against a poor team,” Lalas continued. “And you saw the celebration after every single goal? There’s a bigger picture of what they’re here to do.”
That show’s host, Rob Stone, took issue with the number of goals scored, calling it “humiliating” and “an exercise in target practice” for the U.S. The continued exuberance appeared to be the bigger discussion point, though, including later in Fox Sports’s coverage of the World Cup, when several analysts defended the American players.
“To score a goal on that stage,” said Maurice Edu, who played for the U.S. men in the 2010 World Cup, “you’re asking someone to now check their emotions, saying, ‘Hey, take into consideration your opponent and what they’re feeling.’ No.
“I’m living in the moment. I put in blood, sweat and tears to get to this stage, to score in a World Cup, and I’m going to celebrate the way that I see fit.”
“This is part of the game, and if you’re Thailand, you’re not upset, you’re not disrespected,” former USWNT member Leslie Osborne opined.
“It’s the first game of the World Cup, there’s energy — they’ve been waiting so long in that hotel,” former USWNT captain Christie Pearce said with a chuckle. “They just wanted to have some fun, gain a little momentum and just enjoy this moment.”
Morgan agreed with the suggestion that this American team will be criticized whatever it does.
“You can never have everyone love you,” she told ESPN. “That’s how it is.”