PARIS — If the notion still lingered, five days after its record-setting rout to open the Women’s World Cup, that the defending champion U.S. national team should consider the feelings of its opponents, tamp down its high-octane offense and behave a bit more graciously while in France, it wasn’t shared by the wild partisans who jammed into Parc des Princes on Sunday evening.
Chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” and decked out in red, white and blue, the throng of 45,594 bellowed its pride in team and country in high-decibel fashion. And when the U.S. players trotted onto the pitch for pregame ceremonies before facing 39th-ranked Chile, the crowd showered the Americans with cheers.
What the fans got, when play got underway, was a radically overhauled starting lineup. Coach Jill Ellis swapped out more than half of the starters from the Americans’ 13-0 romp against Thailand. The next wave of ponytailed Americans in crisp white uniforms attacked with the same zeal, strafing Chile’s outstanding goalkeeper, Christiane Endler, with three scoring attempts in the first three minutes.
In the 11th minute, Carli Lloyd connected with a left-footed blast, leaped in excitement and raced to her teammates on the bench — where she had spent all but the waning minutes of the Thailand game — for a receiving line of high-fives. Within 25 minutes, two more goals followed, a no-look header by midfielder Julie Ertz and another from the 36-year-old Lloyd, who’s not only competing for her country but also for more playing time.
With that early scoring barrage, the Americans had laid the foundation for a 3-0 victory that secured their spot in the round of 16. They also had established that their depth — an almost greedy wealth of talent — may prove their greatest weapon in pursuit of a fourth World Cup championship, with all 20 of the field players (the non-goalkeepers) getting time on the pitch just two matches in. And they declared an unassailable truth: The 2019 U.S. women’s national team can change its lineup, but it can’t change its spots.
Pushing forward, attacking, seizing scoring opportunities and creating them where they don’t exist — that is what these U.S. players have trained to do for years.
“It’s very much a part of our identity,” said defender Becky Sauerbrunn, 34, who’s in her third World Cup. “I don’t think we hide that at all, the way that we’ve played. The defenders are getting forward; forwards are scoring a lot of goals. We’re putting balls in the box, and we’re getting to the box in a variety of ways.”
Their 13-goal eruption against Thailand, whose overwhelmed goalkeeper finished the game in tears, didn’t sit well with some viewers, who questioned why Ellis didn’t rein in her squad once the victory was in hand. Others took issue with what they deemed overexuberant celebrations by the scorers, whom they faulted for being insensitive to an overmatched opponent.
Megan Rapinoe, whose choreographed celebration upon scoring the ninth goal was singled out by some as particularly unnecessary, said the next day that the team’s only crime had been “an explosion of joy.” Asked after Sunday’s victory whether it would be possible for this squad to throttle back its scoring impulse, Rapinoe said she couldn’t see that happening — nor fathom why it should.
“I guess we could have just passed it around the back a million times, but that’s boring and that’s disrespectful to everyone — fans, ourselves,” Rapinoe said. “The only thing you ask of an athlete is to put it all out there and do the best you can. And it’s not in our DNA.”
That DNA — that blend of instinct and expertise — is the reason Ellis constructed her squad as she did, particularly after the disappointment of the 2016 Rio Olympics, where a more cautious team was bounced in the quarterfinals.
And scoring is what fans, friends and family came to see and celebrate Sunday. Among them was the Nims family of Austin, who traveled 5,000 miles to attend their first World Cup — a Christmas gift for daughters Audrey, 12; Charlotte, 9; and Amelia, 8.
“We had to choose between going to camp or coming to the World Cup,” Charlotte explained, her red tutu flashing with sparkly lights. The sisters were unanimous on what they wanted for Christmas: to come to France and cheer their heroes.
“I love it when they score!” gushed Amelia, whose face had a temporary “LOVE” tattoo on one cheek and “USA All Day” on the other. “And they love each other. If something goes wrong, they don’t get mad. They say, ‘It’s okay!’ ”
It fell to Audrey to explain that all three sisters play soccer. They also have read all nine young-adult books that forward Alex Morgan has written, which is partly why each Nims sister wore Morgan’s No. 13 jersey, accessorizing it with red, white and blue beads and headbands that sprouted the letters “U-S-A.”
“But we like all the players!” Charlotte noted.
In the stadium, a larger but no less enthusiastic band of soccer patriots was getting ready for kickoff. Arrayed over eight rows of seats near midfield was the tightknit cluster of 182 family members and friends of the U.S. squad. Some — such as Amanda Naeher, twin of goalkeeper Alyssa — had come to France for the entire tournament. Others are joining in progress, swelling the ranks of hometown supporters with each match.
An elementary school physical-education teacher in Charlotte, Amanda Naeher 18 months ago started setting money aside from the fees she earned working soccer camps for her France travel fund, just in case Alyssa made the World Cup team. So Amanda was in Reims for the opener Tuesday and part of the wild celebration in the stands.
She learned later that the players’ exuberance rankled some back home and elsewhere. But from the vantage point of the stands, the expression of joy had a different, deeper meaning.
So many of the U.S. players, Naeher included, have played together for a decade or more. So their families know one another. When one of them scores or contributes to a goal, it’s a victory for every American parent.
“When Lindsey [Horan] scored, everyone saw their parents’ joy on TV,” Amanda Naeher said. “But we all jumped up and immediately turned around and looked for them, to say: ‘Good job, Mom! Good job, Dad!’
“People ask, ‘How can you cheer after 13 goals?’ These girls have worked so, so hard to be here. And their families have sacrificed a lot to let them do that. It really was a moment of celebration, each and every time.”