The first match went as advertised, and then some — little more than a one-way shooting gallery. The U.S. women’s national team whupped overmatched Thailand, 13-0, in its World Cup opener on Tuesday in Reims, as star striker Alex Morgan scored an astounding five goals to tie a long-standing record set by Michelle Akers against Taiwan in 1991.
There was nothing lucky, or unlucky, about these 13 goals. They simply felt inevitable. The merciless, double-digit result represented the most goals ever scored by the Americans in a World Cup match, and the largest winning margin in the tournament’s history, breaking the 11-goal margin of victory by Germany over Argentina in 2007.
“I’m speechless,” Morgan said. “The ball just bounced my way tonight.”
The final score created debate, even among FOX commentators, as to whether coach Jill Ellis should have pulled her players back to prevent the onslaught. Goal differential may become a factor in Group F, but that’s a specious argument because the brackets make it arguably more favorable to finish second than first in Group F. There is, perhaps, a stronger argument to be made that pulling back the attackers would show disrespect for Thailand.
“We really just came into this game and really wanted to showcase ourselves, and what we’ve been preparing for,” Morgan said, explaining the pile-on. “Every goal matters in this tournament and that’s what we were working on this game. We got a lot of attacks and were really clinical.”
The drubbing wasn’t pretty, but it was a reminder of two soccer realities: The women’s game — at least on the wide, international scale — still suffers from harsh inequalities; and the American women continue to outperform the U.S. men with infinitely better results in major tournaments.
The game itself was decided quickly enough. The Thais went into a 4-5-1 defensive stance, yet the U.S. easily created crossing and cutting lanes. The Thai goalkeeper, Sukanya Chor Charoenying, was overmatched and tentative from the start. The Americans broke through on a twelfth-minute header by the wide-open Morgan, off a pretty cross from Kelley O’Hara. It was only her fourth goal in three World Cups, and she had not scored in the team’s last three lead-up games.
The Americans’ second goal arrived in the 20th minute, on a hard left-footer from Rose Lavelle from outside the box. Then Lindsey Horan scored on a rebound off a set play in the 33rd minute for the third score, sealing matters. In the second half, the U.S. scored 10 times. The Americans added four more goals from Morgan, a second from Lavelle, plus two goals from Sam Mewis, one from Megan Rapinoe, Mallory Pugh and Carli Lloyd.
As a result, the Americans sit in first place in Group F with three points, ahead of Sweden on goal differential.
This was even more of a mismatch than was expected when the No. 1-ranked team in the world plays the 34th-ranked team in the world. The Americans have an incredibly cushy, early draw — though it may well lead them to the most difficult quarterfinal imaginable against France. For now, in Group F, they play Thailand, then 39th-ranked Chile on Sunday and then ninth-ranked Sweden. The Swedes defeated Chile on Tuesday, 2-0, in an earlier game. By the time the Americans face Sweden on June 20, both teams likely will have clinched advancement.
Meanwhile, the gulf between the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams has never been wider. Back in 1999, when the women of summer won the World Cup so famously, the men’s team was coming off a disastrous, last-place finish in the France ’98 tournament. Twenty years later, not much has changed. The women’s’ team is one of the top two favorites, along with France, to win this World Cup, while the American men are, well… a huge embarrassment.
The men’s team, with a fading generation of older, flawed players, failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in a weak CONCACAF region. Now, as a younger, flawed group heads into the Gold Cup this month under Gregg Berhalter, the U.S. side is coming off two shutout defeats to non-powers Jamaica and Venezuela.
The gap has only widened, even though the pay-to-play systems that develop these two U.S. teams are somewhat similar. The reason for such different results lies in part with the lower priority many other countries place on the women’s game, particularly in nations with limited resources. Laughers like this Thai match are far rarer in a men’s World Cup, though they do happen. Even mighty Brazil lost, 7-1, to Germany, at home in 2014.