Americans awoke Sunday morning to find themselves bathing in wave after wave of schadenfreude. In Melbourne, Australia, the unthinkable had happened: the US Women’s National Team had been defeated — and eliminated from the soccer World Cup.
The online criticism was unrelenting. “They really are equal to the men’s team,” said The Spectator World’s Stephen L. Miller
“Any men’s team that was as cocky as this US women’s soccer team and got eliminated this early in a shocking upset would get absolutely obliterated by sports media,” tweeted radio host Clay Travis.
“Maybe next time they can find girls who are proud to play on behalf of the United States and it might up the moxie,” wrote Grabien’s Tom Elliott.
After a languid and leggy group stage performance that saw the USWNT fail to win for the first time since 2015 and go through to the knockout stages in second place, America’s ladies looked much more positive in regulation time against Sweden. But a gargantuan performance from Swedish goalkeeper Zećira Mušović kept the US at bay — and after 120 minutes it was time for penalties.
To the delight of many, Megan Rapinoe was one of the three to fluff her lines for the US. After coming on in extra time for Alex Morgan, who had a weak penalty saved in the opening match against Vietnam, Rapinoe skied her effort well over the bar — a dispiriting final kick of her career. Then for Sweden, Lina Hurtig’s shot was initially saved by Alyssa Naeher, but the ball rebounded off the woodwork and was shown by the video assistant referee to have fully crossed the line: the US were out.
The US women were already widely disliked internationally for appearing cocky — many fans hadn’t forgotten their wild over-celebrations of the thirteen goals they put past Thailand at the start of the last World Cup. The Fox Soccer promotional adverts promoting the tournament didn’t exactly help matters — with actors hamming it up to play national stereotypes of the US’s chief rivals brainstorming ideas to beat America.
“The entire world is gonna do whatever it takes to stop the US,” one woman says.
“Good luck with that,” replies Alex Morgan to camera.
But events since the last tournament have seen the USWNT’s popularity decline domestically. First it was the team’s complaints and lawsuits about the pay disparity between them and the men’s team. Will Cain broke down the economics of the differences back in 2019 — then found himself quoted out of context and smeared at this year’s ESPYs.
The team also came under fire for not singing the national anthem enthusiastically enough or, in some cases, at all.
Add to that Rapinoe’s decision to embrace her role as a culture-war lightning-rod: the purple-haired winger was a constant and vocal critic of the Trump administration, who knelt in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick.
More recently, she’s drawn fire for endorsing trans women competing in women’s sports — perhaps an indicator that her role as an advocate for the LGBTQIAA+ community is more important to her than standing up for her fellow female athletes. “Show me all the trans people who are nefariously taking advantage of being trans in sports. It’s just not happening,” she told TIME magazine. “Never mind Lia Thomas, Laurel Hubbard, CeCe Telfer, Terry Miller, Andraya Yearwood, Juniper Eastwood, Keelin Godsey, Gabbi Ludwig or Athena Del Rosario,” my colleague Amber Athey pointed out last month.
“On a positive note, Ms. Rapinoe wants to pack the USWNT with biological males, so they should win everything going forward,” joked Piers Morgan after the US defeat.
The end of US women’s soccer dominance is upon us — which, whisper it, is probably good for the game overall.