Fan-pleasing U.S. women have a 'few things to fix' ahead of World Cup

Can there possibly be a soccer team anywhere in the world whose players are adored, admired and cheered on as affectionately by their fans as the U.S. women’s national team?

I’ve certainly never witnessed the kind of unconditional love from a stadium crowd as I did in a packed Toyota Stadium on Wednesday evening when goals by Alex Morgan and Mallory Swanson led the USA to a 2-1 win over Brazil.

At men’s games in various parts of the world I’ve seen fanatical enthusiasm for club or country. But those supporters, who idolize players and savor in their victories with extreme emotions, also demonstrate their disappointment to losses or poor play emphatically, even belligerently.

Among the 17,784 fans in Frisco, Texas, were thousands of girls — teens and pre-teens — wearing U.S. colors and replica jerseys. One group of six girls ages 6 to 8 donned matching Alex Morgan jerseys. Many of the men and women dressed up as well.

After the game, a woman mentioned that she was impressed with the resounding ovation that greeted Megan Rapinoe’s entry in the 71st minute. “I didn’t expect that in Texas,” she said, and shared with me some of the disturbingly vicious comments her workplace colleagues had made about Rapinoe because of her stands on social justice.

There were periods in the game when U.S. players mis-hit simple passes and I expected the jeers that would have followed from fans of other teams. Not so with USWNT fans, who I soon realized were supporters in the true sense of the word.

While I was watching the game with eyes on what wasn’t going well with the U.S. play, such as poor first touches or inaccurate passes I wouldn’t expect from the world’s elite players, the fans focused on and celebrated all that went well. They were rewarded with Morgan’s wonderful goal just before halftime. (I would have liked to see the jubilation from those six little girls.)

Rose Lavelle, coming off injury, misplayed pass after pass. Unlike the fans, I had written off the chances of Lavelle making a contribution on Wednesday evening. But, after pouncing on the ball in midfield ahead of a lunging Brazilian, she dribbled swiftly upfield and with a well-timed pass set up the goal by Swanson that ended up being the gamewinner.

Had the USA lost, I imagine the fans would have still cheered them at the final whistle.

There was something delightful in the atmosphere at Toyota Stadium, where fans found so much joy in watching these women play — and even warm up, for that matter — while never behaving in way that makes one wonder — as one often does in stadiums and arenas — whether fans are taking sports too seriously.

The victory, following wins over Canada and Japan, earned the USA the 2023 SheBelieves Cup crown and nearly the entire crowd, not concerned about getting home on a weeknight, remained in place for the trophy ceremony.

U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski somewhat downplayed the significance of the achievement.

“We enjoy winning,” he said. “We enjoy winning the title, but the whole time while we’re in camp, we’re talking about [how] it’s not just about this tournament. It’s about preparation for the World Cup.

“The fact we were able to do well against such great opponents, all three of them, is very motivating us. We believe we still have a few things to fix and get better from it.”

Regarding my critique of Wednesday’s U.S. performance, someone told me, “You must have been watching a different game."  I’d like to think I was watching the same game differently. Looking for what needed to be better if the USA hoped to win the World Cup this summer. The Americans lifted the 2019 World Cup but finished third at the Olympics in 2021 — and suffered friendly losses to England, Spain and Germany in 2022. 

While observing Japan beat Canada in Wednesday’s opener, I marveled at the Japanese skill, from adept first touches that put the ball in the perfect place for the second touch, to passes delivered optimally to teammates and swift combination play under pressure in tight spaces. It was a degree of individual skill that exceeded what I felt the U.S. players generally display.

Yet the USA beat Japan, 1-0, on Sunday and is unbeaten against Japan in their last 12 meetings. Wednesday’s win was the USA’s sixth straight over Brazil.

Things to fix must certainly include the post-Julie Ertz midfield, which needs to play more cohesively, control the rhythm of the game and possess the ball for longer phases. That would make it easier for forwards to shed markers and make the forays of the outside backs less predictable.

The return of Lyon-based Catarina Macario, who’s racing to return from an ACL injury, would be a significant boost.

U.S. women’s national team traits that aren’t lacking: pleasing their fans and a knack for winning.

Photo: Daniela Porcelli/ISI Photos

17 comments about "Fan-pleasing U.S. women have a 'few things to fix' ahead of World Cup".
  1. George Miller, February 24, 2023 at 7:05 a.m.

    To not care about the quality of play and cheer anyway? Sorry not for me.

  2. Scott Chaney, February 24, 2023 at 11:11 a.m.

    Mike, your overall analogy is right on the money, and if you can't see that, then you haven't played soccer at a competitive level. I wish the team well, but improvement will be required at the training level. 

  3. Santiago 1314, February 24, 2023 at 12:09 p.m.

    Mike, You have Hit on one of the BIG Problems with the "progress" we Need to make, if we are to Maintain(or should I say REGAIN) #1 Status for the Women's National Team.
    You might have been "Feeding"Off my Thoughts from the Last Olympic Debacle in a Foreign Country... Much as our Women's Team Feeds Off the Screams of the Little Girls in US Stadiums.... There won't be 20k "Mean Girls" there to PUMP UP the US Players....
    Could be a Repeat this year in Australia/NZ, to what happened in Tokyo Olympics.

    I REPOST from 8/3/21 ... The USWvampire Team Continues, to mask a Bigger Problem.

    • Santiago 1314 replied, August 3, 2021 at 4:14 p.m.

      Maybe a FAREWELL TOUR is in Order...
      I think Part of the Problem for this Group is what I will Call "VAMPIRISM"...
      Being Social Media "Wokeys"  They Feed OFF the Energy of their Fans...
      These Players were NEVER All that Great, in Comparision to Previous Generations of WNT.
      Like some "B" Movie Horror Vampires, They Feed Off the Medis attention and Screams of Little Girls in the Stands.
      They can't Generate their Own Enthusiasm, Passion or Energy because they Hate their Flag, Anthem and Bosses.
      And with NO Fans in the Stands, They had No One to Sap the Energy Out of.!!!

  4. uffe gustafsson replied, February 24, 2023 at 5:53 p.m.

    Santiago US team fans don't consist of just screaming tweens. Last WC in france Le Havre stadium was rocking with adult fans never have I felt such atmosphere in any stadium men or women game. It's something I never will forget.
    the volume was like a rock concert.

  5. Santiago 1314 replied, February 24, 2023 at 10:28 p.m.

    Uffe, we shall see in NZ/AUS.???... Getting to France 2019, is Different than Australia 2023... Granted that Crowd in Le Harve, was Loud... Listening to the HiLites, it sounds like a Great game to have been at... Sounded pretty High Pitched, which just Backs Up my Theory... I Doubt that this Group of Players is Capable of Generating there Own "Passion" when it comes to "Crunch Time", they have to "Feed" Off The Crowd.

  6. R2 Dad, February 24, 2023 at 12:25 p.m.

    Even though the roster is stacked, without Ertz and Macario we have a more difficult time imposing ourselves on the opposition. We are already conceding possession to the likes of Spain and France, just happy to counter. When do stop doing that? Does USSF already have candidates lined up to replace Vlatko? Win or lose, one cycle is enough.

  7. Kevin Leahy, February 24, 2023 at 2:44 p.m.

    Every match I watch with these women, I never fail to see them coming up with several high quality scoring opportunities. The finishing is the consistency they need. It is something that is needed especially for good starts. Playing from behind is never good for an opponent.

  8. Bob Ashpole, February 24, 2023 at 2:53 p.m.

    Another great piece of writing, Mike. Thank you.

    Two comment about this article.

    First, those WNT fans are emotionally bonded with the WNT. The WNT has always, always, placed their fans on a pedestal. The fans return that support. There are individual athletes like that in other sports, but with here it is the whole team. You would not be wrong to say that the team is playing for those little girls in the stands and watching on TV.

    Second, the difference I see between now and the last two cycles is in the depth. Today there is a large difference in quality between the first 11 and the bench. In the past the second 11 were the second best team in the world. That is my takeaway from watching these last three matches. In the past the pool was so deep that world class players had a difficult time getting called to play with the senior team. Sometimes players had to wait until their mid-20s. Now the pool is not nearly as deep. 

    How to illustrate this? Currently people are lamenting the loss to injury of Macario. They are correct. She is greatly missed, but in the past decade her injury would not have been significant because it would only provide an opening for the next world class star to appear.

    I regret being so negative, but let's be real. Women are not developing like the women of the past (inclucing playing with and against males). Now they are developing just like our future MNT players, not with them, and it shows. 

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, February 24, 2023 at 3:09 p.m.

    Now I will put the blame where it belongs, on the youth coaches. Now there are exceptions, but youth coaches don't put player development first. They prioritize team development and winning first. So instead of developing superior players for the future, they take advantage of physical abilities (which in youth sports separted into one year calendar groups) results in selecting players that are early bloomers and from players born in the last three months of the year. Then they train for and play a style of soccer that depends on those physical advantages and downplays technical skills. Because their players don't have good technical skills they can't learn to play good soccer and don't develop smart soccer brains.

    If you want to improve soccer, USSF needs an attitude change and needs to overhaul youth soccer. Right now USSF has a stranglehold on it like never before.

    USSF went from 2-year age groups to 1-year age groups saying that it would improve youth development, but that was not true. Reality was it made it easier for pay-to-play to continue to select the oldest players and continue with the same individuals from year to year, which they couldn't do with 2-year age groups. It actually eliminated a leveling factor that gave younger and later developing individuals greater opportunity to play elite soccer. It forced coaches to look at more than the relative physical age of players when selecting for elite soccer.

    Thanks to USSF both genders are coached this way.

  10. Santiago 1314 replied, February 24, 2023 at 4:05 p.m.

    Spot On Bob

  11. James Madison, February 24, 2023 at 4:54 p.m.

    For the US to play top competition successfully, it needs to play faster.  When it tries to play faster, it plays sloppily because it is deficient technically---passes are inaccurate or, if accurate, are received with a poor first touch and shots are not well taken. Fixable?  Good question.  If not, forget winnng the World Cup.

  12. Kent James, February 25, 2023 at 1:05 a.m.

    This column raises an interesting question; are relentlessly positive fans true supporters, or just naive?  "Sophisticated" fans don't accept poor play, and let the team they support know it.  But does that kind of fan criticism help or hurt the team's performance?  Most players are pretty aware when they've made a mistake (and if they miss it, their coach is likely to remind them), so I don't think the crowd letting them know that it is aware of the error is particularly helpful.  Given how well the US women have done recently (in terms of scoring) while still making many mistakes, maybe these positive supporters of the USWNT are on to something....

  13. Philip Carragher replied, February 25, 2023 at 10:28 a.m.

    Kent, might the uncritical and jubilant support for team performance, even when they're playing poorly, teach kids that what they're witnessing is good soccer and that they should try to imitate it?

  14. Santiago 1314 replied, February 25, 2023 at 6:35 p.m.

    Kent, No Question that playing in your "Home" Stadium, with Positive Fan Feedback helps a Home Team and Intimidates the Opposition... 
    The US Women's Team  is a Unique "Environment"... the Screaming and Wailing that goes on at their Games, is "UnReal", it IS Masking a deep underlying Problem for the Program.
    The Level of our players is Diminshing at the same time the Level of the Opponents is Increasing.
    We have been Surpassed... and You Wonder if ANY ONE at USSF sees IT. {*o*}
    Too many "Studies" and "Law Reviews"... Paralysis thru Analysis.!!!
    Some Negative Feedback from the Home Team, can have a "Positive" effect... But eventually it Sprials Out of Control and ALL are Impacted DOWN... Fans and Players.

  15. Santiago 1314 replied, February 25, 2023 at 6:37 p.m.

    Simple Solution... Hold ALL World Cups and Olympics in the USA.!!!!

  16. Bob Ashpole replied, February 26, 2023 at 2:39 p.m.

    Or the favorite American corporate strategy, we could simply buy FIFA.

  17. Santiago 1314 replied, February 27, 2023 at 9:58 p.m.

    They Probably buy us First, Bob..{~,o}

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