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Women’s Soccer Team Celebrations Draw World-Wide Criticism And Support (#GotBitcoin?)

U.S. Women Turn Up the Noise in Pursuit of World Cup Glory. Women’s Soccer Team Celebrations Draw World-Wide Criticism And Support (#GotBitcoin?)

Women's Soccer Team Celebrations Draw World-Wide Criticism And Support (#GotBitcoin?)

Megan Rapinoe Celebrates Scoring The Second Goal In The Quarter Final Game Against France.

Amid the distractions swirling around the U.S. national soccer team, its quality on the pitch has never been up for debate.

Hardly a day has passed at this Women’s World Cup without the U.S. national soccer team answering questions about anything but soccer. The topics these past four weeks have included tweets by the President, the national anthem, exuberant goal celebrations, controversial goal celebrations, and a bizarre debate about whether the team was “arrogant.”

Each time, the three-time world champions have given the same swaggering answer: This is why they came to France.

“We’re at the World Cup. What do you want us to do?” star forward Megan Rapinoe said. “This is the biggest stage, the biggest moment…We work hard, we like to play hard.”

Amid the noise swirling around the team, its quality on the pitch has never been up for debate. In a more competitive field than any Women’s World Cup in the tournament’s 28-year history, the U.S. has once again set the standard. The Americans, having dispatched SpainFrance and England, are now heavy favorites to lift the trophy for a fourth time on Sunday against the Netherlands.

More than that, they have reached this stage in the most American way possible—loudly, confidently, and without apologies. If the 1999 U.S. team that first captured the nation’s attention were seen as America’s carefree sweethearts, the current generation has recognized its platform and embraced rebellion.

Women's Soccer Team Celebrations Draw World-Wide Criticism And Support (#GotBitcoin?)

Alex Morgan Celebrated Scoring Against England In The Semi Final By Pretending To Drink A Cup Of Tea.

“What I love about this group is, it’s more vocal in a way that we probably didn’t touch upon,” said former national team player and 1999 World Cup winner Julie Foudy. “We were always deflecting. We were the girl next door.”

The current team’s boldness has rubbed a few opponents the wrong way.  “If they are scoring or something else, they are arrogant,” Dutch forward Lineth Beerensteyn said. But in the face of criticism, that unflinching exuberance has only made the team more popular.

The U.S. women’s home jersey, for instance, recently became the top-selling soccer jersey, men’s or women’s, ever sold on Nike . com in a single season, the company said in an earnings call last week. Nike has also seen profit in embracing the NFL player Colin Kaepernick, despite some of the American public viewing him as a polarizing figure.

ESPN announced on Thursday it would seek to build on the team’s momentum by putting the nine-team National Women’s Soccer League, where all 23 members of the U.S. squad play professionally, back on television. The broadcaster plans to air 14 games the rest of the season, including the playoffs. The league, which receives financial support from U.S. Soccer, had been without a national TV partner after Lifetime and the NWSL ended their three-year, game-of-the-week deal early.

For the World Cup, TV ratings on Fox have been surprisingly strong despite less favorable kickoff times than at the 2015 tournament in Canada. The U.S. semifinal victory over England drew 7.4 million viewers during the middle of an American workday, the fifth-largest audience to watch a women’s game in U.S. history. That trend has been in line with countries across Europe and South America setting ratings records for women’s soccer throughout the tournament.

The Americans’ success here makes it almost easy to forget that the team is still locked in a far-reaching battle with its own national federation. Midway through the tournament, following a report that the women’s team generated more total game revenue than the men’s team in the previous three years, U.S. Soccer agreed to pursue mediation with the players who had brought an equal-pay lawsuit against it March 8.

The 1999 side, too, had protested the way it was treated by U.S. Soccer—the team once went on strike during a contract dispute. The difference today is that the players weren’t afraid to drag the fight out into the open. Twenty years ago, Foudy said, that seemed impossible.

“In the media, we felt like to come out too overtly would be perceived negatively by the public,” she added. “Like, ‘How dare these women fight the establishment?’”

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the 2019 team is that none of the sideshows have cost the players any focus on the field. After U.S. players provoked a wave of hand-wringing for celebrating every goal in a 13-0 beatdown of Thailand, they winked at their critics in the next game with choreographed golf-clap celebrations against Chile.

Women's Soccer Team Celebrations Draw World-Wide Criticism And Support (#GotBitcoin?)

“If they are scoring or something else, they are arrogant,” said Dutch forward Lineth Beerensteyn.

They were accused of arrogance when defender Ali Krieger said that the U.S. had the best team in the world and the second-best team. Except manager Jill Ellis has used all 20 outfield players in the squad here and the Americans have still outscored opponents 24-3. Krieger had a point.

But it was one thing to play brilliantly and come up with all the answers early in the tournament. It has been quite another to devise elaborate celebrations such as Alex Morgan’s tea-sipping routine against England—and then have to defend them—while knocking off some of the best teams in the world.

Ellis understands this team runs on candor. Even though many coaches aim to rein in their players from providing motivational fodder she said, “I don’t police my team. They can say what they want.”

Especially as long as the team keeps churning out victories. Being the brashest, most famous team in women’s soccer works best when the results back it up. Not that the players, now just 90 minutes from successfully defending the World Cup, pay much attention to their critics anyway.

“We are here for one thing. That’s it,” Ellis said. “Not lawsuits, not silly trumped-up things, not external noise. We’re here for one thing, and that’s to win.” Women’s Soccer Team Celebrations, Women’s Soccer Team Celebrations, Women’s Soccer Team Celebrations, Women’s Soccer Team Celebrations, Women’s Soccer Team Celebrations

Updated: 7-7-2019

A Very American Victory For The U.S. Women’s National Team 

They talked the talk—then walked the walk. Now they’ve won a fourth World Cup.

They are champions, but also a cultural referendum, probably inevitably, given how even the nicest things become arguments in these daffy, divisive days.

The U.S. Women’s National Team defeated the Netherlands, 2-0, in the Women’s World Cup Final on Sunday in Lyon, France—a stressful but stirring victory for a lightning-rod soccer outfit with a champion’s ability to turn down the noise, and excel when it counted most.

I hope you enjoyed it; many millions did. If you couldn’t bear to watch this edition of the USWNT; if you rooted for the Dutch, or France or England before them, just to prove a stubborn point: lah-dee-dah and boo-hoo-hoo for you. You missed all the fun.

I hate rehashing the brouhaha, because it was mostly silly and overheated, but this is what the USWNT allegedly did “wrong” this World Cup:

They were excessively celebratory after scoring some goals.

One of their most prominent players stood—but didn’t sing, or hold a hand across her heart—during the national anthem.

A few of them said they weren’t interested in going to the White House.

Is that it? I think that’s it.

This is what the USWNT did right:

1. They Won The Freaking World Cup. Again.

Not only that, but the USWNT won this 2019 World Cup like Americans, which is to say noisily, without apology or fear. They did it with an avalanche of pressure on their backs, some of it self-inflicted—anything less than victory Sunday would have been viewed as an international comeuppance. But with second-half goals in the Final from co-captain Megan Rapinoe and Wisconsin Badger Rose Lavelle, they came through with style and swagger.

Is there anything more American than talking the talk—and then walking the walk? As the great baseball philosopher Dizzy Dean once said: It ain’t bragging if you can back it up. And the USWNT backed it up.

In the pinnacle event of the sport, the USWNT once more ran the table, asserting themselves as the global standard for women’s soccer. This is the second straight World Cup title for the U.S. women, their fourth overall. As the sport grows more competitive—and it is clearly becoming more competitive—they remain what the rest of the world aspires to be.

The Dutch gave the U.S. a competitive game, but the USWNT never trailed in the entire tournament. Over a month in France, they took on all those rising contenders—they heard all those predictions France would stun them in the quarters—and took them down. Again.

But that’s not all of it, is it? There was something transformatively unapologetic about this USWNT team. Like it or not, they declined to play by the old rules. They were good and they knew it. Their high-profile players embraced being high profile. They didn’t demur—on the pitch, or off.

This was a shift. The USWNT has typically been marketed as an apolitical inspiration factory: role-model national daughters who inspire children, especially young women, to play soccer and dream big. That inspiration vibe persists, and it’s very real, but 20 years after Brandi Chastain’s penalty kick, this sunshine-and-unicorns imagery can diminish the full humanity of women athletes—who, as it turns out, have always been just as multidimensional as the men.

The players on this USWNT—they had their good days, bad days, laughs, letdowns, all of it. Some players said nothing. Others talked politics. Some talked trash. They could be profane. It was clear they weren’t in France to be an uplifting poster on the wall. They wanted to win—and they want future players to be paid better.

That’s important; pay equality, not a trophy, may wind up being the legacy of this team. This is a team that not long ago sued its national soccer federation for gender discrimination. And here they were, in the World Cup—when nobody would have blamed them for bowing out of discussing tough topics—using the platform to tackle the persistent structural and economic roadblocks for women’s soccer, not only in the U.S., but the rest of the world.

If you don’t think that is inspiring to a whole new generation of athletes, I don’t know what to tell you.

And let’s face it: it wasn’t hard, amid all the lectures about sports economics, and mansplaining about celebrations, to detect more than a whiff of a double standard. This is a world, after all, in which the U.S. men, who didn’t even make the last World Cup, make more money than the U.S. women. It’s also a world in which NFL players grandly celebrate 7-yard gains for first downs. Where the president of the U.S. brags about himself like a boxer. Where Charles Barkley is a national treasure. John McEnroe is the voice of tennis—I’m completely serious. And we’re gonna lecture Alex Morgan about lifting a pinkie finger and miming a teacup after scoring versus England?

Now That’s The Tea. It Really Is

Here’s the cool part: the USWNT didn’t apologize, for any of it. I think there was some expectation after the 13-0 rout of Thailand that the U.S. women would come out, heads hung low, and express contrition. But they didn’t. Nor did they cower when the president took to Twitter to scold Rapinoe for her lack of anthem enthusiasm, and saying she didn’t want to go to the White House. Morgan didn’t show remorse after her “tea” celebration versus England, despite the rebuke of Twitter behaviorologists.

If it made people agitated…so what. If some folks didn’t want to hear them talk about equal pay, bummer for them. This USWNT grew comfortable with the uncomfortable.

No one embodied this ethos more than Rapinoe, the pink-haired veteran who revels in what she memorably called the “total sh-tshow circus.” It was Rapinoe, 34, who scored on a penalty kick to break Sunday’s 0-0 deadlock, giving her 6 goals in the tournament, landing her the “Golden Boot” as high scorer, despite missing the semifinal versus England with a hamstring injury.

Think about it: Rapinoe became an international cause célèbre, feuded with a U.S. president, lambasted governing bodies for the inequities in women’s soccer, gamely took on every hot button question and…oh yeah, scored both goals in the round of 16 against Spain, both goals in the quarter against France, the game-winner in the final, and the Golden Ball award as the best overall player in the tournament.

It’s one of the all-time talk-and-back-it-up performances in sports history—a little Joe Namath, a little Muhammad Ali, the latter another socially-conscious athlete who knew a thing or two about being pilloried for patriotism.

Love it? Hate it? It doesn’t matter. If you’re not into Rapinoe, tough luck. She’s legendary now. So is this USWNT—a team that made a lot of noise at the 2019 World Cup, necessary noise that will likely be heard forever.

 

 

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