The USA celebrates a late goal against Thailand Tuesday. (Michael Chow-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
PARIS — As I watched the final 15 minutes or so of the United States’ 13-0 thrashing of Thailand in astonishment in the mixed zone (don’t ask why, will explain in another column) with many members of the American media corps Tuesday night, I could not help but wonder what the rest of the world was thinking as the USA tacked on goal after goal after goal.
What truly magnified the onslaught was the celebrations the U.S. used on those 11th hours in front of a dejected Thailand side.
I later discovered the reaction worldwide and domestically wasn’t all positive. While the U.S. team defended itself, there were Americans who were embarrassed and critical of the national team’s conduct.
Given the disparity between teams at the Women’s World Cup, it can be a difficult balancing act for coaches. At this level you can’t and shouldn’t stop a team from playing its game or even scoring — it would be disrespectful to the opponent. But you can mute goal celebrations after a game has gotten out of hand.
While the U.S. team did not have an agenda to embarrass the Thais, what can be perceived by the rest of the world from various cultures could mean a huge backlash against the Americans later in the tournament, especially if things go south for them.
This is what FOX commentator Alexi Lalas tweeted the other day:
“After beating Thailand 13-0 & celebrating each goal #USWNT may have lost fans, domestically & internationally…and sealed themselves as villains of the @FIFAWWC. I love it. But the soccer gods can be cruel and vindictive. If US goes on to fail, their behavior will be on a loop.”
Karma has a way of coming back at biting you in the you know where when you least expect it.
The U.S. women’s team can tell you that. The Americans have been on the other side of over-the-top celebrations. When Norway defeated and eliminated the U.S. team, 1-0, at the 1995 world championship, the winners celebrated in what we will say was, ahem, a unique manner.
The Norwegian players were joined hand to ankle, crawling around the field in a maneuver called the Train. It was an affront to several American players.
“It was very shocking,” former U.S. international and Hall of Famer Tiffeny Milbrett told The New York Times. “I don’t think I had ever seen anyone on the team cry.”
At least one Norwegian player took great delight in watching the U.S.’s reaction.
“It’s fun to beat the Americans because they get so upset, make so much noise, when they lose,” Norway captain Linda Medalen said. “This is a problem. Never be weak.”
Not surprisingly, the U.S. used that memory as fuel for motivation in future games against Norway, especially in its 2-1 extratime win at the 1996 Summer Olympic semifinals on the way to the first of four gold medals.
The French fans have a history of letting the enemy know when they have done wrong.
At the 1998 World Cup in this country, the partisan crowd at Parc des Princes hooted Croatian defender Slaven Bilic with boos, hisses or whistles every time he touched the ball in the third-place match against the Netherlands. That includes during the pre-game introduction and bronze-medal ceremony afterwards for his great acting on an alleged foul that led to the banishment of Laurent Blanc in the semifinal. That red card forced the French defender to miss the final.
So, it will be interesting to see how the crowd reacts at Parc des Princes when the USA meets Chile Sunday night, although it probably will be pro-American.
Even yours truly has experience on both sides of sports humiliation.
While a teenager in Westbury, we essentially had teams from our neighborhood that would play baseball and football against one another.
In football games against another neighborhood side — that’s American gridiron football — we got routed once or twice. I was the quarterback of my team and in one of the games experienced a rough day, getting intercepted a few times.
It was tough enough losing, what made it worse was the fact the opposition kept on celebrating their touchdowns in our face and trash talking us. Nothing like rubbing it in, huh?
When the other neighborhood team felt we were an easy mark in baseball as well, we accepted the challenge.
Well, we crushed them, something like 21-7.
When the score was 19-2, I certainly did not forget what transpired the previous fall on the football field. I had our entire team sit down on the field (but not the battery) when the captain of our foes came to bat late in the game. We were humiliating them on the scoreboard (so to speak, because there was no actual scoreboard, but you know what I meant) and now we wanted to go after their spirit, kicking imaginary dirt back at their faces.
He grounded the ball to third base. As the third baseman, I got up and threw to first for the out.
Was sitting down a smart thing?
Looking back, probably not (although it felt really good at the time). I certainly wouldn’t do anything like that to anyone today.
Then again, what did you expect from teenagers?
And besides, no one was watching us.
The world was watching Tuesday night and thanks to social media, what transpired at Stade Auguste Delaune might not soon be forgotten.