July 3, 2019


Ruthless. Relentless. Victorious.: The true identity of the United States women's soccer team is not so much its style but its results: It is a team built to win, and that is what it does. (Rory Smith, July 2, 2019, NY Times)

Perhaps, in time, the quality that allowed the United States to navigate those few minutes -- and the agonizing 20 or so more that followed -- will come to be identified as its defining trait. "It was a nail-biter," Lavelle said of those minutes when everyone's fate was busy being decided somewhere else. "It was a long wait. But I think it's a time to regroup, to get together, to be ready for whatever's next."

None of it threw Jill Ellis's team. There is too much experience, too much nous, in the United States ranks for that to happen. Instead, it did all it could to tamp down the frenzy. The team that had started this tournament by running up the score against Thailand, adamant that it should, at all times, seek to attack, to go for the jugular, to never stop, started to run for the corners. Heath did it. Morgan did it. They dallied at free kicks. They looked for contact, and when they got it, they stayed down. They waited until they had the ball just right before taking throw-ins. Naeher held on to the ball for as long as she could without attracting sanction from the referee, Ellen White making her feelings on the matter plain as she did so. They drew the sting. They ran the clock.

In doing so, of course, they tried England's patience. "I don't want to say too much," White said afterward, her devastation still plain. "I could say a lot. Some of it may be a bit unsporting, but that is game management. That is how they win games."

She is right, too: that cynical side is just as much a part of the United States arsenal as Morgan's finishing or Horan's vision or Heath's technique. It is what makes them such a fearsome opponent, one capable not only of pummeling an opponent, but of asphyxiating them, too, draining them not only of time but of hope.

It speaks, deep down, to this team's true identity. There is little highbrow talk of philosophy from Ellis and her players. They do not see themselves as the standard-bearers for some idea of how the game should be played or what it should look like. It would be wrong to say there is no aesthetic quality to what they do; more that they accept that aesthetics are subjective -- what looks beautiful to some may be dull to others -- and that their concern is, primarily, with the objective.

This is a team built to win: whenever, wherever and however that might be. Morgan running for the corner was no less a manifestation of a ruthless streak than giddily cranking up the score against Thailand was almost a month ago. She was doing what was necessary to win. That is all that matters. That, to this incarnation of women's soccer's greatest dynasty, is all that there is.

Posted by at July 3, 2019 12:00 AM