This past summer, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team successfully defended its World Cup title in record-breaking fashion.
But besides their opponents on the pitch, they also had to face some disgruntled critics: one particular president and their own soccer federation.
It started with their first match, a date with the lowest-ranked nation in the tournament, Thailand.
To say that the U.S. dominated the game would be an understatement. The Americans defeated Thailand 13 goals to none, setting the record for most goals scored in a single Women’s World Cup match.
But despite its strong first showing, the team’s impressive start was met with widespread criticism on social media.
Former Canadian national team players expressed disapproval of the Americans’ celebrations for later goals in the game. Some fans and TV analysts also called the team “classless” for continuing to attack even when they were well ahead, according to NBC Sports.
Although the strategy was roundly criticized as disrespectful, the Americans’ reasoning for continuing to take shots on goal is not incomprehensible.
In the group stages of a tournament, a point system is used, where teams earn three points for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss. In special cases where teams are tied on points, goal difference — calculated by subtracting the total number of goals scored on a team from the total number of goals it scored — is used as a tiebreaker.
Many teams in the past have missed out on qualification to the knockout stages because they had a lower goal difference than another team.
Later, in an interview with soccer magazine “Eight by Eight,” U.S. co-captain Megan Rapinoe said she was “not going to the fucking White House.” if the Americans won it all.
President Donald Trump responded to Rapinoe on Twitter, telling her to win first before talking and that she should never disrespect the country, the White House or the U.S. flag.
In the past, Rapinoe has been vocal about her disapproval of the current administration. She was the first female athlete to follow ex-NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s lead in taking a knee during the national anthem, according to NBC Sports.
Unfazed by Trump’s comments, Rapinoe led the U.S. to a tight 2-1 victory over France, the tournament host, in the quarterfinals.
The U.S.’ semi-finals opponents were the English, who had only conceded one goal in the entire tournament.
Forward Alex Morgan scored the winning goal and put on an impromptu celebratory performance where she pretended to sip a cup of tea. Many fans loved the bold celebration, while others, including former English soccer stars, called it distasteful, according to beIN Sports.
Although the team’s eventual World Cup win over the Netherlands was a proud accomplishment for the Americans, it wasn’t their only ambition as athletes. In March, the team launched a fight for equal pay.
They sued the U.S. Soccer Federation, accusing the organization of paying the women’s team less than the men’s team, even though the women have been vastly more successful, according to ESPN.
U.S. Soccer said it couldn’t comment on pending litigation.
Although USWNT and U.S. Soccer were in mediation for some time, talks have since broken down and the suit will go to trial in May, according to ESPN.
Growth in other areas will be important as well. Support for women’s soccer outside of events like the World Cup and the Olympics is an equally important objective, according to NPR.
The team is making progress in this area. Following the World Cup, the National Women’s Soccer League has been shattering viewership and attendance records, according to USA Today.
Whether this success is sustainable comes down to increased awareness, media coverage and fan support.
As a fan, supporting a team, following the league or catching a game or two is a great way to support the development of women’s soccer.
Danny Ta PO ’22 is a math major from Ontario, California. In his free time, he enjoys being frustrated by the inconsistency of his favorite soccer team, Manchester United.