The USWNT is exactly as unapologetically spectacular, or arrogant, as you perceive them to be. If you find team captain Rapinoe to be brash and cocky then you can find lots of articles out there that might agree with you. And if instead, you find her and the U.S. Women’s team to be confident, cohesive, joyful, and magnificent in their success, there’s an even bigger cheering section out there. As Alex Morgan and many others have pointed out, there’s quite the double standard when it comes to goal celebrations.
Yes, the U.S. Women’s National Team won the World Cup. It was tense, competitive and beautiful to watch. The Netherlands side held the U.S. team to a scoreless first half. Something that hadn’t been done throughout the entire tournament. Up to the final, the U.S. team had scored in each match within the first 12 minutes, sometimes within the first 5 minutes. In the end the U.S. side prevailed, and has not lost a match in the World Cup tournament since 2011 (They are 13-0-1).
But look deeper. The Netherlands did lose, but they played with excellence and determination, and lost with dignity. The cover of the Netherlands Times sports page today reads, “Disappointed, But Proud After World Cup Loss.” Proud they should be, because not only did they play with heart and tenacity against a U.S. side favored to win, they had sensational chances with Lineth Beerensteyn through the U.S. defensive line, and spectacular saves from keeper Sari van Veenendaal.
Van Veenendaal went on to win the Golden Glove award for best keeper at the tournament for save after save after save. And despite being dominated on ball possession by the US team in the first half, 62%-38%, the Dutch came out in the second half to gain time on the ball with 46% possession.
It wasn’t enough to win, but remember we will all lose at some point. I know it’s sacrilege to say, but the USWNT will eventually lose. Even the New England Patriots will lose. We’ll all lose eventually – an interview, a contract, a job, a promotion, or maybe even a date. The most important thing, of course, is to understand that the landscape is always changing. There is always a chance to learn, to change, to win.
Look at women’s soccer. The game has changed dramatically in just 15 years. In the 2007 World Cup semi-final, the USWNT lost badly against a Brazilian team and the dazzling superstar Marta. In the 79th minute of the game, Marta received the ball on the left side of the field with her back to defender Tina Ellertson. With Marta’s first touch she flicks the ball over her left shoulder, over the defender, while spinning right around the Ellertson. She gathers the ball, cuts right across another defender and strikes to the back of the net. You can see it here.
Today’s solution to Marta’s move would be to foul the attacker and concede a free kick. Ten years ago no one had seen such a move, and were flatfooted by her brilliance. The USWNT of that era played a simple, long ball-oriented game which relied mostly on simply having better athletes than their opponents. The plan was to play the ball deep and outrun your opponent. It worked, up until Marta.
“That was one of those moments where as an opposition player you were devastated because it was likely our worst loss in the history of the national team, but on the other side, recognizing that you just saw a glimpse of brilliance.”
– Heather O’Reilly, who started that match for the USWNT.
Enjoy the wins, but when you do lose, study that loss like a scientist. Because you can always change, and come back stronger.