The U.S. women’s soccer team routed Thailand 13-0 in Tuesday’s World Cup opener, and while the highlight reels were aplenty, so was the backlash arguing that the Americans throttling of a lesser opponent — and celebrations after each goal — was either unnecessary or unsportsmanlike.
Here’s a look at why it was OK to run up the score:
Goal differential matters
From a practical standpoint, scoring differential matters. In the World Cup, the top two teams from each group advance, and scoring differential could be the determining factor between seeding and, ultimately, advancing past the group stage as its used as a tiebreaker.
Striker Alex Morgan, who had a World Cup record five goals in the win Tuesday, said afterward that “we knew that every goal could matter in this group stage game.”
Momentum for the rest of the tournament
Tuesday’s demolition helped the Americans find their stride — early. Coach Jill Ellis said she was coaching for the big picture — getting her team better on every play and building confidence — for the sake of what’s next.
“Games are games, and you’ve got to go out and play and compete, and a lot of this is about building momentum,” Ellis said. “A World Cup is about competing. It is about peaking. It is about priming your players ready for the next game.”
With the game effectively over at halftime (the U.S. up 3-0), Ellis continued to substitute as if it were a competitive game, bringing in Mallory Pugh, Carli Lloyd and Christen Pres.
“You can tell by my substitutions, you play players who can get hot,” Ellis said. “Feeling good, feeling the back of the net, that’s so important for a forward and for a midfielder. …Those (confidence) feelings are what can help you through the tournament.”
Respect for the opponent
A large pool of criticism for the U.S. women on social media derived from the notion that the Americans weren’t respecting their opponent by thrashing them.
Cue Ellis: “I think to be respectful to opponents is to play hard against opponents. I respect Thailand. I celebrate that they’re here. For us, the players are excited and I said afterward when you go into a World Cup you can talk tactics, but it’s about mentality, it is also about confidence, and so getting off on the right foot is important.”
Morgan was also seen comforting Thailand player Miranda Nild after the match, but said afterward sportsmanship does not take away the importance for the U.S. women to “continue to go.”
Sending a broader message to FIFA
Thailand’s manager Nuengruethai Srathongvian acknowledged after the game that “we have a limited number of players available, and we are small in build. We have to improve on that aspect.”
If the argument is made that the U.S. should have taken it easy for those reasons, a similar argument could be made that the Americans’ drubbing helped illuminate a broader issue that’s FIFA’s job to fix, not theirs.
“Not every federation gives the same financial effort to their women’s side, and that’s unfortunate,” Morgan said. “My hope is that eventually we have 32 teams moving forward. But also that it encourages FIFA to put a bit of pressure on those respective federations to put more efforts into their women’s sides.”
Men would do it, too
Would men be criticized for a similar result?
Abby Wambach, a veteran of four World Cups and the leading goal scorer in U.S. women’s soccer history with 184, summed it up on Twitter: “It’s the World Cup folks. Would you say this about the men? Didn’t think so. For all that have issue with many goals: for some players this is (their) first World Cup goal, and they should be excited. Imagine it being you out there.This is your dream of playing and then scoring in a World Cup. Celebrate.Would you tell a men’s team to not score or celebrate?”