While some of us are fretting over the Americans' 13-0 drubbing of Thailand in the Women’s World Cup, let us look for the reasons for the mismatch.
Let us look at FIFA. You remember FIFA, the world soccer body, once seen suffering mass arrests of officials in a lush Swiss hotel, for legal and financial improprieties.
That FIFA. The world soccer federation, that gave us the brokered convention that led to Russia holding the 2018 World Cup for men in Russia (reasonable enough) and the 2022 World Cup coming up in Qatar, that world powerhouse in the hot desert.
That convention was marked by packets of American $100 bills to buy the votes of delegates.
I believe the “A” in FIFA stands for Avarice.
Now FIFA is lusting to expand its men’s World Cup from 48 teams to 64, as soon as it can get away with it. This will somehow make more money for the friendly folks from FIFA, even if it guts the grand institution of qualifying regional tournaments, with quadrennial upsets of established teams.
What? You thought the cupidity and stupidity ended with the canning of goofy old Sepp Blatter? There’s more where he came from. (Now there is talk of starting a permanent super-team league in Europe; these people must hate their own sport.)
What does this catalogue of avarice have to do with the 13-0 goalfest by Alex Morgan and her teammates? Plenty. Expansion produced the one-sided match.
To be fair to FIFA, it did create a women’s World Cup in 1991, with 12 teams in China, and the United States winning. FIFA recognized the talent and desire to play on the part of women, and the WWC challenged nations that treated women as second-rate citizens in sports as well as more important ways. The WWC spurred FIFA to expand to 16 and then to 24 in 2015.
Group play was sometimes ragged, but as nations caught on, there were more competitive teams. The United States – boosted by Title IX legislation plus the appeal of women’s sports – won three of the first seven World Cups, but never lacked for worthy opponents.
Veterans of early World Cups will not forget the vigilance of Linda Medalen, an Oslo cop, who anchored the back line and loved to beat up on the Yanks. Or Ann-Kristen Aarones whose header provided an early lead in the 1995 semifinal, won by Norway. Or the Chinese stalwarts who pushed the U.S. into a shootout in the 1999 finals. Or Birgit Prinz who anchored the German team in 2003 that knocked out the U.S. in the semifinals, or Marta, the gunner who scored twice in Brazil’s 4-0 victory over the U.S. in the 2007 final, or Homare Sawa, the smooth Japanese midfielder who sparked a shootout victory in the 2011 final.
The point is, nations have been shamed or inspired to upgrade women’s soccer, producing great players and dangerous teams – Sweden, Canada, and so on. But let’s be realistic: the women’s sport has produced rivalries and memories and technical skills but not the kind of depth that can fill out a competitive 24-team format.
Soccer doesn't lend itself to showing superfluous mercy. Plus, male World Cup defenders are big enough to fill up the field a bit more, nasty enough to grind down opponents and wily enough to kill the clock, to minimize losses, even to settle a few scores in the closing minutes (a memorable cheap shot by an Italian player against a Spanish opponent in 1994) plus operatic swoons by the divas of the male game (women do not dive, essentially.)
The women stay on their feet, and they keep on playing, which led to that 13-0 mismatch the other day. I read a story in the Times by Hannah Beech, the great correspondent in Bangkok, about the impact of that loss. Life went on, she reported.
As clearly seen in the opener, the U.S. has waves of talent, worthy of Michelle Akers and Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach and so many other stars of past World Cups. But down the line, they are going to meet opponents with the swagger of Medalen or the talent of Prinz or the poise of Sawa or the opportunism of Marta.
Save your scorn for FIFA as it lusts for a totally unnecessary 64-team World Cup, as soon as the barons of FIFA can slip it in.
6/13/2019 05:49:51 pm
I find the Americans’ behavior very unappealing. They seem unaware of the reality of women’s soccer, that it is still in its early days, that overall quality is still fairly low and that their success is relative and should be looked at in the correct context. There are only about 6-8 decent teams which means 24-team tournament will have a lot of lopsided games, Thank FIFA’s insatiable lust for money for creating that situation. The USA-Thailand game was little more than a scrimmage. Hopefully a wake-up call is coming the way of the US players,, as well as a message from above-from coaches, team leaders, the federation or even FIFA-to tone it down. Their behavior was classless and embarrassing. And the clueless and self-serving comments of Morgan, Rapinoe and others when questioned about it the next day only make it worse. It’s all and only about them and about how great they are. They have diminished themselves. People who defend them by trying to make this about gender inequality are worse than dishonest. The entire US team and coaching staff should be made to watch Germany’s players’ demeanor during their 2014 slaughter of WC host Brazil over and over again until they get it. The Germans were embarrassed to be humiliating an opponent they respected and conducted themselves with restraint and class. US women should take note. But they’re probably still too busy admiring and complimenting themselves. They really are becoming a most unappealing group.
6/13/2019 07:50:02 pm
John: Thanks so much. Because you know the sport better than I do, your comment is important. You used a perfect example of German players not showing up their Brazilian (host) opponents in 2014. We've both seen cases in which a former player comes back to San Siro or Bernabeu or whatever and declines to celebrate out of respect for the fans and his old team. But I think this is different -- first game in a World Cup, and the overt support that female players give each other (I think club competition is less engrained.) Female volleyball -- a celebration after every point. How not to disrespect opponents in a WWC? Cut back on the celebration? I don't think it was personal....could they have toned it down after 8 or 10? I'm sure. I also find Rapinoe one of my favorites, a straight shooter. I think she sees the big picture. But when is enough enough? Mille grazie. GV
6/14/2019 01:36:52 am
To be clear, I am not saying that the US women should have stopped scoring or trying to play their best. It is, after all, an official game in a World Cup and they have a duty to do their best, even if such games don’t belong in a WC and actually put the state of women’s soccer in a negative light. My problem is their excessive self-celebration. They are used to being lauded, celebrated, even venerated, and criticism of them is rare-and never well-received. In this case it is justified and I hope the wiser heads are listening and exercise some leadership(and I’m not sure the coach is one of those wiser heads, as good a coach as she may be). I’m trying to imagine how a Bora or a Gansler, a Wenger, Capello or a Klopp would have handled this. Very differently I think. I doubt Pia Sundhage would have encouraged or tolerated such excessive displays, which went way beyond “supporting a teammate”. At a certain point it just becomes repetitive self-congratulation at the expense of a helpless and hapless victim. Can you imagine Messi-whose goal celebrations tend to be restrained anyway-scoring five goals in a Spanish Cup game against a weak team from the lower divisions of Spanish soccer and celebrating each one as if he had just beaten Real Madrid? Neither can I. He doesn’t need to. He knows who he is. If Morgan, Rapinoe, et. al. are true professionals, and as good as they are supposed to be, then they will learn from this instead of continuing to defend their behavior as normal and appropriate. It wasn’t. They are adored and emulated by countless girls and boys who play soccer and they need to show them a better example of good sportsmanship.
6/13/2019 07:27:34 pm
I hate when teams run up the score, especially against much inferior opponents. Maybe the goal celebrations on the late goals was a bit excessive, but then again I can only imagine the joy of participating on the world stage. With score differential important, holding the score down would have been reckless.
6/13/2019 07:55:50 pm
Dear Seth Langson: Thanks. (First time replying?) I agree with you in, say, American football, when it is possible to run the ball rather than pass with a 4-touchdown lead, or whatever. (I saw Maryland State run the ball for a second half against Hofstra a zillion years ago to protect a squad with 20 players.) But it's hard to not score in soccer when one team is so vastly inferior. JP Dellacamera said early in the match that the keeper "has trouble with her hands," or something like that, not snidely. The defense was ripe for picking. Rapinoe made moves and dished off the ball...The alternative in soccer is back-passes to the keeper. Of course, in a men's league that would draw whistles from the crowd. The Americans almost could not help scoring. Degree of celebrating? A different question. Best, GV
6/14/2019 04:03:34 pm
Even with the early inequities in some of the games, I’m enjoying this year’s WWC.
6/15/2019 02:17:42 pm
6/15/2019 06:33:14 pm
I'm not sure what to think about a comment that bemoans-over and over again-"outrageous chauvinist male soccer journalists"(who are they, by the way? I know a lot of dedicated soccer journalist, both male and female and I don't know anyone I would consider a chauvinist.)while repeatedly referring to female players using sexist terms like "gorgeous" and "dazzled by the beauty of...". Seriously? If anything, when it comes to the US Women's National Team the press is generally beyond supportive, at times crossing the line into cheerleading. The team is good and the players are generally appealing personalities as well. They are rarely criticized and this time, when the criticism they and their coaches received was actually well-founded, the reaction of some fans and supporters, not to mention certain journalist, to unquestioningly defend them is disappointing.
6/16/2019 10:51:59 am
6/16/2019 05:21:37 pm
As Jimmy Cannon wrote, “Nobody Asked Me, but....”
6/17/2019 11:11:13 am
Ed, playing in the mud is miserable for all the players. We had defeated Delaware 5-4 at home my sophomore year. The game was on a Friday and it had rained heavily all week so we had not practiced.
6/17/2019 01:00:04 pm
1. Everybody see Rory Smith's perfect column about Endler in NYT today?
6/17/2019 02:54:52 pm
6/17/2019 03:38:44 pm
Rory Smith’s excellent article on the USWNT vs Chile game was unusual in that he called attention to how goalkeepers prepare and the importance of footwork.
6/18/2019 11:31:30 am
SOCCER WAR STORIES CONTINUED...
6/19/2019 09:54:38 pm
This has been a fun read.
Comments are closed.
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.