How these fearless World Cup champions put 'The U' in the USWNT

Dan WetzelColumnist
(Illustration via Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports/Getty Images)
(Illustration via Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports/Getty Images)

LYON, France — There is going to be a “30 for 30” made one day about the 2019 United States women’s national team, although they might just be fine replaying either of the ones made about the University of Miami football teams, or any other in-your-face, rub-some-the-wrong-way, fearless packs of champions.

This was a World Cup where the Americans won the title while also focusing on the fight for equality for female athletes, particularly around the world where investment and respect lag considerably behind U.S. standards.

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Yet their greatest impact on society may come from their brashness, their ferociousness and their absolute enjoyment in rattling societal norms of how women are supposed to play and how they are supposed to speak.

There’s probably never been a women’s team like it, certainly not with this big of a following.

This wasn’t a “you go, girl” kind of team. It was more “listen up, we’ve got something to say right after we completely annihilate our opponent” team.

They came to the World Cup with defender Ali Krieger declaring that the Americans depth of talent was so great that they had both the best and second-best team in the world. How’s that for some talk? Michael Irvin would blush. It served to let everyone know who the bully of this event was going to be. (She probably wasn’t wrong, by the way.)

Even better was Jill Ellis, the American coach who, in playing the Jimmy Johnson role here, just kept encouraging it.

“I like that confidence,” Ellis said. “That is an internal feeling. I don’t think it is a message to anyone else.”

It was most certainly a message to everyone else. And based on how many teams looked terrified during the first 15 minutes of their game against the Americans (the U.S. scored early in six of them), it likely worked.

The USWNT did not apologize for having fun while beating the competition in France. (Getty)
The USWNT did not apologize for having fun while beating the competition in France. (Getty)

Of course, the U.S. wasn’t just about words, but actions. So how’s a 13-zip opening victory over Thailand to back Krieger up? The score that caused sportsmanship pearls to get clutched all around the globe? Some Canadian TV folks are still crying. Respect the opponent, or something. The U.S. even kept celebrating each goal, like it was Christmas morning.

Ellis just echoed Steve Spurrier.

“I think that to be respectful to your opponents is to play hard,” Ellis said. (She wasn’t wrong, either, and it’s worth noting, the American players were very supportive and respectful of other players.)

It went on from there. There was no one capable of shutting the Americans up.

The U.S. attack was too potent. Its defense was too tough. There seemed to be an endless parade of fast, physical defenders that just overwhelmed opponents and played with no concern for their well-being. In the final, Becky Sauerbrunn got her forehead cracked open, came off to get a bandage and then returned to kick some more Dutch butt.

The Americans never trailed in the tournament, outscored their opponents 26-3 and had the lead for 70.2 percent of all minutes played. These are video game numbers.

Megan Rapinoe got into it early with President Donald Trump when an old video emerged of her declaring she “wasn’t going to the [expletive] White House.” She did not apologize, try to downplay the controversy, or appear impacted at all about the dust-up. Instead, she doubled down.

This team feared no one.

Alex Morgan mocked critics by mimicking sipping a cup of tea (an ode to spreading gossip) and when that further angered folks (someone check on Piers Morgan’s sensitive soul) she told them it was a double standard to rip women but not men who “celebrate all over the world in big tournaments, you know, grabbing their sacks or whatever it is,” she said.

“When I look at sipping a cup of tea, I’m a little taken aback and kind of laugh about it,” Morgan said.

She wasn’t wrong about that, at least not some of it. Men can and do get criticized for wild celebrations. But that’s the point. This team wasn’t just trying to play like men, they were playing like the most outlandish of the men. Those teams always collect the hate. Like this team, it’s a source of fuel.

“It’s almost like it just feeds her,” Ellis said of all the backlash to Rapinoe. “This stuff doesn’t bounce off her, it pushes her forward.”

Rapinoe did win the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball, at 34 years old no less, after all.

Call the USWNT whatever you want. Just don't forget to call them "World Cup champions." (Getty)
Call the USWNT whatever you want. Just don't forget to call them "World Cup champions." (Getty)

On and on it went. Too many goals. Too much celebrating. Too much talk. Too much politics. Heck, based on the social media video from the World Cup after party, too much celebration. Or something.

And like these teams tend to do, they just laughed at it all and kept going bigger and bigger.

When Trump supporters went at Rapinoe she declared herself “particularly American”, “very deeply American”, and “extremely American.”

She earlier stated that no team had ever won a title without a gay player (she didn’t specify what kind of team). It was mostly a joke, although she might not be wrong about that. “That’s science right there,” she said.

Boy did that trigger some people.

They sued their national federation for equal pay. They bashed FIFA relentlessly for not caring about women’s soccer. They scolded other countries for not investing in their women.

They took on all comers, on the pitch or off.

The confidence on the team was so great that Donald Trump — Donald Trump! — noted Rapinoe and others “should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job!” Look, if there is one bipartisan thing that America can agree on, it is that when Donald Trump thinks you being too braggadocious, well, we are in some kind of place.

Of course, they finished the job. They were always going to finish the job.

With teams like this there is always a segment of the population who is aghast, who gets upset, who declares this is everything wrong with sports. It doesn’t really matter who the team is or what is actually getting said.

Then years later, an appreciation sort of sets in. Maybe the Fab Five wasn’t so bad, after all. Maybe Deion Sanders was entertaining. Maybe Muhammad Ali had a point.

So some of the people who hate these American women the most right now will come around once the movie comes out and explains it.

It always does in this kind of show.

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