LYON, France — The Brits continue to go all-in on labeling the United States women’s national team “arrogant” in the run-up to Tuesday’s semifinal World Cup game here against England.
Monday brought a two-page spread in the Daily Mirror newspaper with photos of Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe under a headline that screamed: “Are these American stars too arrogant?”
It went on to claim that the U.S. team is so distasteful and overconfident that even French fans will root for rival England on Tuesday (3 p.m. ET) in Lyon. That remains to be seen.
The Daily Mail is the Daily Mail, an at times entertaining British tabloid that is prone to absurdity. This being a soccer tournament that is trying to grow in interest and popularity, having a dust-up between the U.S. and England over who is or isn’t “arrogant” is a good thing, at least in the abstract.
This stuff happens with the men all the time. It’s all part of the fun.
That said, this is the image issue the U.S. is dealing with right now, fair or not. It includes:
England’s coach “Sensitive Phil” Neville making an absurdly big deal out of two U.S. Soccer operations staffers daring to visit the hotel where FIFA will house the Americans should they advance to Sunday’s final. England is currently staying at the hotel. The U.S. is elsewhere.
Neville declared such an act a “breach of etiquette” and “something England would do” while suggesting U.S. coach Jill Ellis would discipline the staffers. Sorry, Phil, she won’t. The operations people were just getting the lay of the land at a new hotel, something they do for all hotels the team might play in (including, reportedly, in Nice, France, for the third-place game should the Americans lose to England).
“I would assume everybody’s doing that,” Ellis said. “You have to plan ahead … So in terms of arrogance, I think that’s got nothing to do with us. That’s planning, preparation for our staff. So yeah, it’s pretty normal … they think about that so we don’t have to.”
Never mind the facts. Neville deftly made it an issue and it gained traction, a sign of the U.S. supposedly looking ahead. Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher was asked about it Monday.
“To be honest, has nothing to do with the game,” she correctly noted.
There’s more, of course. If nothing else, the Americans have made this an eventful tournament.
They scored 13 goals in the opener against Thailand, eliciting some negative reaction from other countries that decried the score and the U.S. players celebrating after each tally. Again with the sensitivity – this is the World Cup, if you show up, you risk getting pummeled. Besides, try telling anyone not to celebrate scoring a goal in this tournament.
There is, of course, Rapinoe’s dust-up with President Donald Trump, fueled by her outspoken political beliefs and a claim months ago that she wouldn’t go to the White House. Trump isn’t exactly popular around here, but some people, including many Americans and every Russian internet bot, side with him.
Neville, for his part, praised Rapinoe for standing up for what she believes in, but he couldn’t help but note that it wasn’t something he would do.
“Me personally, I would never get involved in any political issues,” he said. “I’m a football manager, don’t know anything about politics, don’t like when politicians get involved in football. So I think it’s sometimes ‘stay in your lane’ from my point of view.”
There was U.S. veteran Ali Kreiger twice declaring that the Americans “are the first and second best teams in the world.” It was a nod to the team’s remarkable depth, but it certainly spun heads across this tournament, including Spain’s Virginia Torrecilla mocking the statement by asking, “Who is Ali Krieger?”
“Ali’s played in a lot of different teams, so … it’s really a comment about ourselves,” Ellis said Monday of Krieger, who is on her third World Cup team, including the 2015 champion. “It’s really a comment about how she feels … and she has the right to say that if that’s how she feels.
“It’s important that our team has confidence,” Ellis continued. “I don’t think in any way this is an arrogant team. I think this team knows they have to earn everything, that we’ve got tough opponents like we played the other night still ahead of us and we have to earn every right to advance in this tournament.”
Finally, there was Neville noting that America has a “ruthless streak,” which is something he praised and wants for his side. As well he should. The USWNT should never have to apologize for that.
“I think I would call it more belief,” forward Christen Press said Monday. “I would characterize it as optimism that we are going to win. But there is a ruthlessness. That means win at all costs [such as] tactically adapt in a way we never have in four years and you have to do that to win.”
The Americans are rightfully standing their ground. Some of this stuff, particularly the hotel visit, is beyond ridiculous.
Neville is likely just using the British media to pepper the Americans with questions in hopes of rattling them. Or maybe it’s all an attempt to motivate his team, but the English players would have to be as dumb as a bag of rocks to really think the actions of an operations staffer are reflective of the mindset of Morgan, Rapinoe or anyone else in red, white and blue.
The U.S. doesn’t seem to care what the outside world thinks of them, but that doesn’t mean the narrative isn’t being set. Since the team severely limits media access to its players, very few have been able to eloquently address the situation. Likewise, there has been scant coverage of the many positive United States developments, teamwork, players and personalities.
Phil Neville and the British media have exploited that information vacuum, filling it with talk and headlines and questions about arrogance and ridiculousness and negativity.
It probably won’t matter on Tuesday, except perhaps to get more people in Europe to tune in to see for themselves. In the end, any arrogance is earned by the winners and the Daily Mail sure isn’t going to score any goals.
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