SportsPulse: How do you follow the most dominant performance in World Cup history? You crush Chile, of course. USA TODAY
PARIS — Megan Rapinoe’s sliding celebration was not planned.
Rapinoe and Alex Morgan joined Fox’s broadcast team in Paris between World Cup games Thursday, and both said the team’s late-goal celebrations were genuine. The Americans have been criticized for celebrating too enthusiastically as the goals piled up in the 13-0 rout of Thailand on Tuesday night, with a good deal of the vitriol directed at Rapinoe, who slid to the U.S. sideline and kicked her leg after she scored the Americans’ ninth goal.
“It was in the moment. It was definitely in the moment,” Rapinoe said, explaining that it was a shout-out to backup goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, who has bad knees and is constantly pulling at them.
The U.S. and Thailand were the last teams to play their first game at the World Cup, and Rapinoe and Morgan said the Americans had grown more and more antsy as they watched the tournament. The result was an “explosion of joy” – and something Rapinoe said the team needed after a stressful last few months.
In addition to the World Cup buildup, the entire national team is suing U.S. Soccer for gender discrimination. The lawsuit was filed in March, and the women have been fielding questions about it ever since.
“We were pent up,” Rapinoe said. “I think our lead-up has been heavy, everything off the field, all the pressure that’s on us all the time.”
Morgan, who counted off her goals after scoring her record fifth, had said Tuesday night that the celebrations were meant to draw in the entire team, and Rapinoe echoed that during the interview.
With 11 players on the field at one time and only three substitutes per game, there is a good chance some on the 23-woman team will never play a minute at the World Cup. Making them part of the celebrations was a way for everyone to feel as if they shared in the victory.
“To bring everyone in and have that feeling on the first day, which was the last match day, was really important for us and something that was special for us,” Rapinoe said.
Thailand’s coach said after the game the team had no problem with the U.S. celebrations. She also thanked the players, several of whom consoled members of her team as soon as the final whistle sounded.
On Thursday, Thai goalkeeper Sukanya Chor Charoenying took to Twitter to thank Carli Lloyd.
“Your words that you told me make me strong. Keep going for this tournament and so on. firstly, I felt dispointment (sic) in worst situation but this is the biggest experience in my life,” she wrote, following her message with three smiley faces and a heart between the Thai and U.S. flags.
Asked if they thought the debate about the celebrations puts a target on the Americans’ back, Morgan and Rapinoe said one had already existed. The U.S. is the world’s No. 1 team and is the defending World Cup champion.
“I think we do an incredible job as a team of embracing and smiling through that,” Rapinoe said.
The United States’ next game is Sunday against Chile.