World Cup: Team USA Takes on Sweden, France, and a Chance to Change the Conversation - EntornoInteligente

Entornointeligente.com / Jill Ellis, coach of the United States women’s national team, has been asked a few times now whether her squad would be better off losing to Sweden in its final group-stage match on Thursday, so as to avoid meeting fellow powerhouse France in the quarterfinals. Her answer, and her players’, has been simple: of course not.

This U.S. squad is regarded as the strongest in the world and narrowly favored over France to win the World Cup. They’re the defending champs who have flown through their first two matches by a combined scoreline of 16–0. To ease up now could derail momentum, and Ellis said , “you can’t overthink this. Deciding to come second [in the U.S.’s group] or manipulate a score, I just think that can be dangerous.”

After the first match of the tournament last week, Ellis drew some pearl-clutching criticism for not easing up. The U.S. beat Thailand 13–0. Complaints like those from former Canadian player Clare Rustad and former U.​S.​ men's pro Taylor Twellman had to do with the team's celebrations rather than the score, but Ellis took a broad view of her players’ passion. “As a coach, I don’t find it my job to harness my players and rein them in because this is what they’ve dreamed about,” she told reporters after the game. “This is it for them, this is a world championship…if this is 10–0 in a men’s World Cup are we getting the same questions?”

For her team’s part, Thailand coach Nuengruetai Srathongvian said , “several USA players tweeted to encourage our players. Thank you to Team USA for being so professional.” Later in the group-play round, U.S. forward Carli Lloyd seemed to respond to the lingering accusation by celebrating a thumping volleyed goal against Chile with a polite, winking golf clap . If her in-game comportment needed to be evaluated by the commentariat, she’d be sure to abide by the rules.

The World Cup is still in its earliest stages before it’s whittled down to the top competitors, and in the absence of too many evenly matched games, this kind of faux skirmish tends to endure. And while we’re waiting until the next chance to watch Tobin Heath cross someone up , comments like those from former U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo (“I think it was unnecessary to have planned-out goal celebrations”) get extra oxygen. But the inspection also speaks to this U.S. team’s place as a target and standard-bearer—not to mention a women’s team—and the additional burdens that come with that. “I think our only crime was an explosion of joy last night,” star forward and team captain Megan Rapinoe said in an interview with Fox Sports the day after the victory against Thailand. “We’ve been really pretty pent up as well. We’ve had kind of a heavy lead-up, obviously everything off the field…so, if our crime is joy, then we’ll take that.” Rapinoe was presumably referring to the lawsuit the members of the team filed against the U.S. Soccer Federation ahead of the tournament, claiming discriminatory compensation and treatment compared to the men’s team.

That the biggest team in this tournament has been talked about so much in terms of its celebrations isn’t a huge surprise. On top of the front-runner pressure, there are the off-field issues Rapinoe brought up; the magnifying glass the team is under has been a roving one. U.S. Soccer responded to the lawsuit by stating that disparate compensation is “based on differences in the aggregate revenue generated by the different teams and/or any other factor other than sex.” On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the women’s team has produced more game revenue than the men’s team in the three years since the last women’s World Cup.

“I’m like, you know, everybody just hates the [New England] Patriots—and I’m [a Philadelphia] Eagles fan all my life—but you’ve got to respect what the Patriots have done. You’ve got to respect what the Golden State Warriors have done,” Lloyd told the Guardian on Friday. Scrutiny, including the tedious variety of late, isn’t new to this team.

But even the Warriors just lost to the Toronto Raptors. There are plenty of gameplay-related questions to come in this World Cup: Sweden will be a tougher opponent than Thailand and Chile, to say nothing of France, whenever that happens; the U.S.’s defense has yet to really be tested; and Lloyd herself is an uncertain position, scoring goals for fun but as of yet unable to cement a place in the first-choice starting lineup.

Then there’s the largest question of all: The U.S. has won three World Cups, but never two in a row.

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