Controversy is swirling about the USWNT’s 13-0 win over Thailand. Was it a virtuoso display of soccer superiority? Was it a disturbing failure of sportsmanship? Would those who found it unsportsmanlike have felt the same way if a men’s team ran up the same score, or are they afflicted by a sense that it’s unseemly for girls not to be nicer than guys?
To me, embarrassing and humiliating an individual person is a bad idea in any instance, and the same is true in team athletic competitions. Scoring 13 goals was obviously totally unnecessary for the US to secure a victory against the Thais.
Ah, but what about goal differential? The World Cup tournament rules for breaking a tie actually incentivize running up the score. Goal differential (with no cap at the upper end) is the first tie-breaker, and goals-for is the second. So yes, there was a reason to score goal after goal after goal against weak opposition.
Now I was one of the people who found the US explosion of goals against a weak team deeply disturbing, and it has taken me a week to be talked down from the highest point of my dudgeon to rational acknowledgement that World Cup rules actively militate against sportsmanlike civility. It’s hard to completely dismiss the argument that, if we (the USA) resist running up the score, another team may not be so self-restrained and might thereby put itself in a more advantageous position at the knockout stage.
Another argument – made with heat by one of my daughters – runs like this: “If I had a chance to score a goal in the World Cup – especially if I didn’t get that much playing time, I wouldn’t give a hoot if it was the 13th goal. I’d score it.”
OK, I can see that. But the element of the US display that I just cannot get past is the in-your-face celebrations the US players indulged in right through to the 13th goal. After they entered slaughter territory (after goal 5 or 6, maybe), couldn’t they have simply lined up for the ensuing kickoff, in a business-like way, without a lot of joyful histrionics? What I found especially bothersome about the second half of this game was that Team USA seemed so totally self-absorbed, as if it were all about them, and there was no other team on the field that deserved a degree of respect.
Another thing the US team seems not to realize is that humiliating an opponent is remembered, not only by those humiliated, but also by others who witnessed or got wind of the event. The Thais may never reach a high-enough level of play to be able to pay the US back, but the several teams who are competitive with the US have to be aware of what happened, and may use it to psych themselves up against Goliath.
Coaches are always trying to find an “edge,” whether it be physical, tactical, strategic, or psychological, and a clever coach can use the USA-Thai game as a motivational element in a pre-game pep talk. Portray the US as the bad-sport, big-money defending champ, and send your guys out pumped to take them down. Any extra adrenaline shot can turn the tables for the underdog.
So, even though the USA is an odds-on favorite to win the tournament, this slaughter may have just made it a just a little tougher for them to reach that goal.
Post-game comments by current and former players praising a record-breaking 13-goal win are depressing. They seem totally unaware that this type of win can come back to bite you.