13 thoughts about the USWNT, goals, celebrations and equal pay

June 14, 2019

United States' Alex Morgan, center, celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match between United States and Thailand at the Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims, France, Tuesday, June 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

1. Every score matters.

Last Sunday, Madison Bumgarner tried to sneak a first-inning, letter-high fastball past Max Muncy. It didn’t work.

Muncy hit a downright Bondsian blast through the unseasonably warm June, San Francisco air, over the right field stands and well, well into San Francisco Bay, past the kayaks parked for the express purpose of hoping a ball lands in front of them. Bumgarner, as he is wan to do when he feels someone has overstepped their bounds, took offense.

Muncy told Bumgarner that if he’d prefer Muncy not watch the baseball he just murdered into a watery grave, that Bumgarner could “go get it out of the ocean.” No one criticized him for this; in fact, T-shirts were made bearing his comment.

Geographical minutiae aside, Muncy’s words resonated, with good reason. These are professionals competing at the top of their sport, doing things most people could only dream of. He had no way to know it at the time, but Muncy’s home run would be the only run scored in a 1-0 Dodgers victory over their rivals.

2. Tiebreakers are lame. A list of them exist in any sporting scenario where a winner and a loser need to be determined, when two otherwise seemingly equal teams need something to differentiate them, and simple results are no longer enough. At places like the World Cup, where there are not many actual results to work with, the chances of a tiebreaker deciding a country’s fate is, for the sports world, relatively high.

So if there’s any chance of getting stuck in such a situation, it’s best to take full control of whatever aspect of any potential tiebreaker is within your grasp. The first tiebreaker at the World Cup is goal differential.

3. In the 2018 men’s World Cup, Group H was decided in a decidedly terrible way. Japan needed to beat Poland to guarantee advancing. Or, because of the byzantine tiebreakers, once they fell behind 1-0 and knew Colombia led Senegal 1-0, they could suck the life out of the game and play for the most lackluster possible finish — a 1-0 loss — and hope for the best in the other game. They were, at that moment, tied with Senegal in points, goal differential, goals scored, and head-to-head record, which meant that tiebreaker used to determine which nation would advance was … fair play. In other words, who had fewer yellow cards. And so, rather than push for a win, they sat back and didn’t even challenge hard, so as to not earn any more bookings, never even really trying to score.

4. If the USWNT draw Sweden — the team that knocked them out of the 2016 Olympics — in their final group stage game, both teams will likely finish with 7 points and the winner of the group will come down to goal differential. Should the Americans win that tiebreaker, they will draw the second place team in Group, likely Spain (13th in the world) or China (16th) in the round of 16.

If the USWNT finish second in the group, they’ll play the second-place team in Group E, in all likelihood Canada (fifth in the world) or the Netherlands (eighth). In the current structure, where the top 10 teams seem a notch above the rest of the world, there’s good incentive to find the best matchup possible in any elimination game.

5. The US Women’s National Team is built to attack. They shifted their already aggressive 4-3-3 formation into something like a 2-3-5 in the opening minutes of their first game against Thailand, throwing weapon after weapon forward. When you’ve got former NWSL MVP and Golden Boot winner Crystal Dunn playing left back along with Christen Press and Mallory Pugh coming off the bench, you’ve got an embarrassment of offensive riches.

But also, there are questions on the back line. This is the first major tournament without former USWNT goalie Hope Solo in more than a decade and the U.S. defense is clearly its weak point. They’re not constructed to win by grinding out low-scoring affairs.

6. Shortly before the World Cup began, Solo trashed head coach Jill Ellis to the press, saying that Ellis “cracks under the pressure quite a bit” and that “the United States knows how to find a way to win in spite of who the coach is.” Solo is now doing television coverage for the Women’s World Cup and was on hand for the U.S.-Thailand match, as Ellis made tactical subs to attack and press on in the second half.

After the win, Solo criticized her former team again, claiming she is “a proponent of respecting my opponents, and I always have been.” Solo was infamously dismissed from the team following her own remarks degrading the Swedish Olympic team in 2016, calling them a “bunch of cowards.”

7. Four of the players who scored in the USWNT’s record-setting 13-0 opening win over Thailand were making their World Cup debut. There are any number of reasons — injury, age, position, depth chart, disparaging remarks about the Swedes, the utter competitiveness of the process of even making the team — that could keep them from being able to ever play, much less score, at the World Cup again. This is the pinnacle of a life’s worth of effort, for both you and the people who supported you at every turn to help you get there.

https://twitter.com/jordangeli/status/1138586256198307843

8. The women’s game has grown dramatically since 1999, but does not share the same depth of competitive nations as the men’s game yet. While European countries that once lagged behind are making bigger investments in growing the women’s game at the club level, translating to stronger national teams, countries such as Thailand aren’t as far along in their development. To help some players make ends meet, the team’s general manager employs them at the insurance company she owns.

Which is more likely to help convince the Thai program it needs to invest more resources — a sluggish, boring loss, or being set on fire and pushed out to sea by the best team in the world? Don’t take my word for it — Thailand Coach Nuengrutail Srathongvian said as much.

9. The group of Canadian players who were taken to task for tsk-tsking the USWNT likely did so less because of their deferential Canadian sensibilities and more so because they spent most of their careers under the boots of the Americans. They suffered one of the most dramatic defeats in Olympic history in the 2012 semifinal, when Alex Morgan’s stoppage-time header advanced the Americans to the final.

Two of those women criticizing Morgan — Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson — were on that 2012 Olympic team. Of note, that defeat hardly crushed the Canadian program. In 2016, they ascended into the top five in the world, where they’ve been ever since.

10. In the 2014 World Cup, the USMNT advanced out of the group stage, despite being matched with Ghana, Portugal and eventual champion Germany. They were, perhaps, one better struck ball away from the round of eight. On the back of that success, they generated nearly $20 million more in revenue than the World Cup-winning USWNT did the next year, in 2015. Oh, wait, sorry, actually that’s backwards.

The women brought in $20 million more than the men that year. The men’s team earned a $5.4 million bonus for losing in the round of 16; the women’s team earned $1.7 million for winning the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

11. The U.S. Men’s National Team missed the aforementioned 2018 World Cup, falling flat on their face in their final qualifying match, as well as several leading up to it. After changes both at the coaching and presidential level of U.S. Soccer, the team recently played a pair of Gold Cup tune-up games at home. First, they lost 1-0 to Jamaica at Audi Field, where they were outshot 13-5 (5-1 on target); then, they were humiliated 3-0 in Cincinnati by a Venezuelan team that had never beaten them, on American soil.

According to the numbers in the recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit filed by the USWNT, the men’s team players will earn $5,000 each for each of those losses, more than the women would earn if they won those games. If the men had won, they’d have earned more than $13,000 each per game.

12. The U.S. Open is being played at Pebble Beach this weekend. Back what seems like a lifetime ago, Tiger Woods obliterated a field of the very best golfers on the planet to win the tournament by 15 strokes, still a record margin of victory in a major tournament, one likely never to be matched. It was celebrated as the most dominant performance in the history of golf. It is held up as the pinnacle of how great perhaps the best golfer of all time was at his peak.

Can you imagine anyone criticizing that performance, just because nobody else in the field could break par?

13. The next time you, dear reader, score a World Cup goal, please email me to let me know how respectfully you celebrated it.

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