Never Apologize for Winning
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
So last week I posted a meme that said, “Never apologize for winning.” Had no idea how apropos that sucker would be a few days later. Our 13-0 thrashing of Thailand is blowing up everything this morning, and not in a good way… not for a lot of people. That ‘never apologize’ bit is a big theme in my book Everything Your Coach Never Told You Because You’re a Girl. But now it seems like half our country is saying exactly that to our only soccer program that has ever won a World Cup: Apologize.
The two main concerns are the score-line itself… a full baker’s dozen… and any celebration that accompanied goals, oh, let’s say, five through thirteen.
Here’s my two cents: The thing you have to remember about soccer (and hockey and basketball and field hockey and water polo and who knows what else): The goal is literally the goal. Just guessing here, but I’m pretty sure the whole ‘goal-setting’ thing was pulled straight from sports where there are, you know, actual goals. And when you try to artificially deflate the score-line, you take the goal out of the equation.
We’re basically the only nation that concerns ourselves with a lopsided score-line, and then, only when it fits into our daily dose of moral superiority. Once on a recruiting trip to Sweden, I went to a women’s indoor tournament. I think the games were twenty-five minutes long. I remember watching one team beat its opponent 32-0. Sincerely. And had the game gone on longer, I assure you the score would have gone higher. (Incidentally, the Australian men’s soccer team once beat American Samoa 31-0 in World Cup qualifying. So there’s that.)
In 1995 I coached a college team that scored 181 goals in 21 games. Most of my attacking players were internationals – all of which had either played for their country’s youth or senior national teams. We were just way more talented than most of the teams we faced. Scores often got out of hand, and oftentimes pretty quickly. It was up to me to manage the ‘sportsmanship factor.’
There’s a loose code in women’s college soccer that you stop scoring after nine goals. I tried that early on, and those international players just couldn’t wrap their heads around it. As a matter of fact, they weren’t too fond of my put-on-the-brakes directives. When you’re up 9-0 five minutes into the second half, what the hell are you supposed to do for the next forty minutes? Well, here are your options:
1. Sub out your starters. That’s fine for a college coach where you might be able to pull off your entire starting eleven, but at the international level, you only get three substitutions. And when you’re coaching the USWNT, that can mean pulling off Alex Morgan for Carli Lloyd or Christen Press. Now what’s that going to do to stem the tide? You also need to consider that the Carli Lloyds of the world are trying to make a case for themselves to get more time on the field or even crack the starting line-up. It’ not like the intensity level is going to dip. If anything, it’s going to be met with renewed energy.
2. You can pull players off the field and play down a man or two or three. Happens in college, but it’s not even a consideration at the international level. Goal differential is a consideration in tie-breakers. The last thing you’re ever going to do is put your own side at a numerical disadvantage. In addition to the obvious, it also requires more work for the players you keep on the field. Any way you slice it, it’s a bad idea.
3. You can try to put conditions on the team such as we can only score from a header. Again, good luck with that when you have players fighting for their playing-time survival. You think Carli Lloyd would pass up the opportunity to bang home a sitter simply because the ball came in too low? No stinkin’ way. And to even ask her would be absurd.
4. And finally, there’s the old keep-away ploy. We’ll just pass the ball around and forgo any scoring chances as we run out the clock. If you’re looking to humiliate an opponent, then this is the method of choice. “We have the ball and you can’t get it.”
So there are your options: Play your very best from whistle to whistle, or do something that opposes the premise that the goal is the goal and asks for something less than your very best. Our players did what they were supposed to do. And they did what they’ve been trained to do: Vaporize opponents. The fact that any American can criticize them makes my head want to explode, especially considering the last World Cup – the one in 2018 – the one our country didn’t qualify to attend.
Winner win. That’s the bottom line. And we’re fortunate to have a team of cold-blooded killers on the pitch. And any way you slice it, they did their damn job.
The other complaint is that our players celebrated too much once the result was in hand. Pass me the Advil – stat! You know what celebrations I think are ridiculous? When a receiver drops a perfect pass from his quarterback and the covering defensive-back jumps up and down beating his chest like he had something to do with it. That’s excessive. That’s unnecessary. But celebrating a goal in the World Cup??? Do you know how many people get to do that in this lifetime? On the biggest stage in the world, you scored a goal for your country. Now please tamp down your excitement. It’s impolite.
You need to know that truly elite athletes, like the ones that comprise our women’s national team, they didn’t get there by being charitable and kind on the soccer field. They got there by being competitive assassins. It’s not a switch they turn on and off. That bulb has been burning bright for years. And what happened in an instant, that moment when the ball tickled twine, it was a product of all those years. It wasn’t just a goal in a game. It wasn’t just a moment. It was all the car rides and wind-sprints and ice packs that made that moment possible. The goal was just the payoff.
Here’s what I think… I think at least half the people who were offended would not have been offended if the losing team wasn’t a group of women, because let’s face it, women need our protection. I think the people who were offended should go watch tape of the Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics and recall how sympathetic they were when the Americans were dunking with a sixty-point lead.
We want - and we expect - women to give us the warm and fuzzy. And when they don’t give us that, when they instead break an opponent’s spirit into a million little pieces – we want them to apologize. To that I say Ptooey! Our team did its job the way it was supposed to, with intensity and excellence from beginning to end. That my friends is a job well done.
And if you want something about this team to bitch about, go educate yourself on their fight for equal pay. They can use your support. You can read more about it here.
If you'd like to check out Everything Your Coach Never Told You Because You're a Girl, just click the link below.