Mark Madden: Don’t chastise U.S. women for excessive celebration
When the U.S. women’s national soccer team beat Thailand, 13-0, on Tuesday and celebrated each goal like scoring had cured a horrible disease, critical things were said. Among them: “Act like you’ve been there before.”
The U.S. women have been. They acted like that then, too.
They have the best program in their sport’s history. Sometimes their confidence bleeds into arrogance, and their joy morphs into bullying.
Coach Jill Ellis played the gender card after, saying the aesthetics of the rout wouldn’t be debated if it occurred in the men’s World Cup.
The U.S. failed to qualify for the 2018 men’s World Cup, so that comparison will have to wait till (hopefully no later than) 2022.
But it’s mostly moot, because routs like that so rarely occur in the men’s World Cup.
The women’s version has fewer truly elite teams and thus, more mismatches. In the 2018 men’s World Cup, only seven games out of 64 were decided by more than two goals and only one game was decided by more than three.
But looking at the 1992 U.S. men’s basketball “Dream Team” suggests (albeit in dated fashion) that Ellis is correct.
Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and the rest went 8-0 at the Barcelona Summer Olympics, winning those games by an average margin of 43.8 points. Almost every basket produced red, white and blue jubilation commensurate to winning independence from England, while Charles Barkley played the ugly American by throwing hard elbows.
It was farcical at the same level as Tuesday’s demolition.
But the “Dream Team” was feted royally and still is. It seems a new documentary is produced every few years.
The U.S. plays Chile on Sunday in their second group-stage game. Let’s see if criticism of the team’s histrionics against Thailand tempers the U.S. performance against a foe that is better than Thailand but not good enough to truly compete.
Here’s hoping it doesn’t.
The U.S. women should be true to their own identity, because that’s what gives them the best chance at a second straight World Cup.
But momentum built in a match like Tuesday’s is false. Goal differential almost certainly won’t come into play. Milestones set mean nothing because it happened vs. Thailand. You can’t polish your game playing against empty jerseys.
Alex Morgan netted a Women’s World Cup-record five goals, but compromised that by going out of her way to do so against a weakling. Morgan should have spread the ball around. Counting off her goals on her fingers was a bit precious, too.
Three U.S. players scored their first World Cup goals. Any level of celebration from them was understandable.
The U.S. won. In a World Cup, getting three points is all that matters.
The excessive celebrating shouldn’t be harshly condemned. But it’s easy to see why it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. I wouldn’t want a team I coached to manufacture semi-choreographed hysteria during a lopsided victory.
But consider a typical NFL Sunday. At least the U.S. was winning. In football, plays are too often celebrated by players whose team is being soundly beaten. A defense gets a turnover, then poses for a “group photo” despite trailing by three touchdowns.
Consider, too, how urgently we want to be mad.
Injuries occur constantly in sports, but somebody had to be blamed when Kevin Durant’s tore his Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Instead of praising Durant for taking a risk to give his team a lift in a crucial situation after being out for a month, it had to be someone’s fault. (Le’Veon Bell wouldn’t have done that.)
Thirteen-nil wasn’t anybody’s fault, either. But nor was it a good look for women’s soccer. It was a UConn women’s basketball moment. Quality turned boring.