Athletes in all sports at all levels are told to play hard and not give up.
In 1969, the Minnesota Vikings football team had a famous rallying cry of “40 for 60” which meant 40 men playing together for 60 minutes.
It got the Vikings to the Super Bowl that year.
But 50 years later, in 2019, 23 women playing together for 90 minutes are at the center of a debate about sportswomanship.
“My heart and my soul tells me that that was the wrong thing to do,” Deer Lakes High School girls soccer coach Frank Acetta said about the final score of the U.S. women’s national team opening game in the World Cup.
On Tuesday, U.S. women, the defending champs, played Thailand. It was expected to be a blow out, but few had predicted just how lopsided the game would be. The U.S. defeated Thailand 13-0, breaking the record for goals and margin of victory in a World Cup game. The U.S. scored 10 goals in the second half.
The number of goals scored matter in the World Cup as they can be used as a tiebreaker to determine the knock-out stage of the tournament. But was it classy for U.S. coach Jill Ellis to run up the score and leave star players in the game like Alex Morgan who racked up a tournament-record-tying five goals?
Acetta said he tried to stand in Ellis’ shoes, or cleats, and couldn’t imagine doing that.
“When a game is over and another team is looking at the scoreboard and sees that they lost 13-0, how good are they going to feel about themselves? The other team is just hurting,” Acetta said. “I don’t know about these women from Thailand, but it’s got to be difficult for them and that’s, for me, a reason that I couldn’t do that. I figure if you’re the best team you’re going to win the thing regardless of whether or not you come in first or second place in your division.”
Pine-Richland High School girls soccer coach Jodi Chmielewski said the World Cup is the highest level of play, so it’s the responsibility of the U.S. opponents to be prepared to play at that level.
“Thailand accepted that bid, and I don’t think it’s fair for the U.S. to have to back off. I think a lot of times it’s more disrespectful to the opponents to play keep away or try not to score. So, I didn’t find it disrespectful by the U.S.,” said Chmielewski. “I think they’re professionals and their job is to win that game and for all those players getting that chance to play in this World Cup, they want their opportunities to play as they would in any other game.”
Another criticism that some fans and analysts had for the U.S. women was that they continued to hold exuberant goal celebrations even as the lead stretched into the double digits. John Scifo, head coach of the Woodland Hills Youth Soccer Association Under-19 club team, said he doesn’t find that criticism to be entirely fair.
“The only ones I would possibly be critical of are the ones who have been there before. If they have been there and scored in the World Cup and played at that level, they won the World Cup, then okay yeah maybe,” said Scifo. “But four of them scored their first World Cup goals yesterday, and they should celebrate. I saw some other comments that if they were just nonchalant about it, people would have criticized them for that too. So you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”
The next scheduled match for the U.S. at the World Cup is Sunday against Chile. It figures to be, at least on paper, a much closer game.