On Tuesday, the U.S. women’s national soccer team kicked off the Women’s World Cup with a historic win, beating Thailand 13-0. The victory broke the record for number of goals scored by any team — women’s or men’s — in a World Cup game, and was the largest margin of victory in the tournament’s history. Yet some have questioned the players’ sportsmanship, criticizing the team for running up the score and celebrating goals “too enthusiastically.”
Some commentators took issue with Megan Rapinoe’s joyous twirls following the ninth goal of the match, which ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman, a former player for the U.S. men’s team, said on Twitter left a “sour taste” in his mouth. ESPN’s Max Bretos seemed to agree, tweeting: “I would tone down the celebration for the 9th goal, but that’s just me.” On TSN’s World Cup show, former players for Canada’s national team called the celebrations “disgraceful.” Fox Sports analyst and former U.S. men’s team player Alexi Lalas said on Twitter that by celebrating each goal, the U.S. may have “sealed themselves as the villains” of the World Cup.
In response, Abby Wambach — the sport’s all-time leading goal-scorer — tweeted:
Asked about the criticism, U.S. team member Alex Morgan — whose five goals against Thailand tied a 1991 World Cup record — told ESPN she was happy to ignore it. “I mean, I think it’s disrespectful if we don’t show up and play our game for 90 minutes,” she said. “It’s disrespectful to the Thai team. I believe they wanted us to play them straight up. And for the celebrations, these are goals that we’ve dreamt of our entire lives.”
Speaking to Fox Sports, Rapinoe echoed Morgan’s sentiments: “If anyone wants to come at our team for not doing the right thing, not playing the right way, not being the right ambassador for the sport, they can come at us,” she said. “I think our only crime was an explosion of joy … and if our crime is joy, then we’ll take that.”
All of this comes against the backdrop of a lawsuit filed by 28 members of the women’s team earlier this year, accusing the U.S. soccer federation of gender discrimination. Despite being more successful and, arguably, more popular than the men’s team, the women’s team earns significantly less money. As The Atlantic’s Jamele Hill pointed out, “the 13 goals the women scored were more than the men have tallied in every World Cup appearance since 2006 combined.”
On Sunday, the team played their second game of the tournament, defeating Chile 3-0, and took advantage of the occasion to gently troll their critics. After celebrating her first goal of the game with a euphoric fist pump, Carli Lloyd turned to her teammates on the bench and, giving them a playful look, brought her hands together for a polite golf clap.
“I can’t take credit for it,” Llyod told the AP, explaining that her teammates had agreed on the response before the game. “But it was fun. I think it made a statement on the sideline there.”
This post has been updated.