REIMS, France (AP) — The goals were one thing, the celebrations another.
The U.S. women’s national team faced criticism following its record-breaking 13-0 rout of Thailand on Tuesday night. The win set a World Cup record for goals and margin of victory. Alex Morgan alone had five goals, matching the most in one game in tournament history.
But there were questions about whether the Americans should have celebrated goals once the game was well in hand. Were the three-time World Cup champions being unsportsmanlike, or merely sending a message to the rest of the field?
Alex Morgan was asked afterward about the display of hugs, high-fives, and posturing for the many American fans at Stade Auguste-Delaune.
“I think in the moment, every time we score a goal in a World Cup — you’ve dreamt of it. I dreamt of it since I was a little girl,” she said. “You know, winning a World Cup and being back there for the third time, we want that fourth star. So tonight we knew that any goal could matter in this group-stage game. And when it comes to celebrations, I think this was a really good team performance and I think it was important for us to celebrate together.”
Those celebrations drew ire on social media, some of it directed at veteran Megan Rapinoe for twirling and turf-sliding after her goal — which made it 9-0. A World Cup-record seven U.S. players scored in the game.
Morgan was rebuked for holding up four fingers after her fourth goal, which made it 10-0.
“A lot of this is about building momentum and so as a coach I don’t find it my job to rein my players in,” coach Jill Ellis said. “This is what they’ve dreamt about. This is for them. This is a world championship”
Rapinoe, interviewed on FOX Sports on Wednesday, also addressed the criticism.
“If anyone wants to come at our team for not doing the right thing, not playing the right way, not being a good ambassador, they can come at us. It was an explosion of joy,” she said. “If our crime is joy, then we will take that.”
Rapinoe pointed to the team’s young players who scored their first World Cup goals and said they had every right to celebrate, including Samantha Mewis, Rose Lavelle, Mallory Pugh and Lindsey Horan.
In a postgame show of sportsmanship, the U.S. team also consoled some of the emotional Thai players. Morgan offered encouragement to forward Miranda Nild, who like Morgan played college soccer at Cal.
Thailand’s players were disappointed, but they have also been on the other end of blowouts. Thailand won a friendly over Indonesia 13-0 last year, and beat Cambodia 11-0 in the group stage of the AFF Women’s Championship.
“In football games, everybody is following the rules, and everyone is trying their best,” Thailand coach Nuengrutai Srathongvian said. “We have to accept that, this team is very good. We don’t have any excuse, except they are better.”
Celebrating and piling on the goals are really two different issues.
At the World Cup, goal differential becomes important in deciding tie-breakers for the knockout stage. The U.S. team is in a group with nemesis Sweden, as well as Thailand and Chile.
It was understood that the top-ranked Americans would likely trounce Thailand, ranked 34th in the world, and possibly No. 39 Chile, which is making its World Cup debut. The game with Chile is set for Sunday in Paris.
The United States faces Sweden in the final game of the group stage next week. It is their first meeting since the Swedes ousted the Americans from the 2016 Olympics in the quarterfinals — the team’s earliest exit ever. Sweden bunkered on defense and afterward then-U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo called the team cowards.
Currently ranked No. 9, Sweden defeated Chile 2-0 in Rennes on Tuesday night and will play Thailand in Nice on Sunday.
The United States did have its defenders, including a familiar one.
“For all that have issue with many goals: for some players this is their first World Cup goal, and they should be excited,” former U.S. teammate Abby Wambach tweeted . “Imagine it being you out there. This is your dream of playing and then scoring in a World Cup. Celebrate. Would you tell a men’s team to not score or celebrate?”