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The USWNT’s World Cup Runneth Over

The U.S. Women’s National Team is off to a roaring start at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. They kicked off their title defense with a trouncing Thailand 13-0 and then defeated Chile 3-0. Thursday’s match should be a different matter altogether, however, as they face their first real test in the Swedish Women’s National Team. The Swedes have beaten the same competition by scores of 5-1 and 2-0 respectively.

The USWNT took some heat for running up the score and celebrating a bit too enthusiastically in their steamrolling of Thailand. The unfortunate reality is that soccer tournaments incentivize running up the score as goal differential is often used as a tiebreaker. It’s one thing to criticize a team that runs up the score in a competition in which margin of victory is of no import, but in the World Cup, it’s an unpleasant survival skill.

The backlash against the celebrations is a bit more justified. This is a sport where a post-goal 20-yard sprint followed by a knee slide and the tearing off of your jersey is totally normal, but the USWNT seemed to take it to another level. There were accusations of sexism, of course, ignoring the fact that some of the criticism came from fellow women players. The team had to respond by affecting subdued golf-clap celebrations against Chile.

Is humility in the face of triumph (especially over an obviously inferior opponent) the ultimate expression of badassery? Definitely. Think Barry Sanders running into the end zone and casually flipping the ball to the ref. But when you’re on the biggest stage in the world in an event that comes around just once every four years, one can hardly be blamed for letting your emotions show. It’s also important to note that Carli Lloyd approached Thailand’s goalkeeper, Sukanya Chor Charoenying, immediately after the match to offer support/condolences.

Regardless, the USWNT is a joy to watch and if the worst thing that can be said about them is they get a little too excited, well, so be it. Hopefully, the USMNT will someday give us such problems.

The Swedes have yet to win a Cup, their best finish coming in 2003 when they lost to in the final match 2-1 to Germany, who scored the winning goal in the 98th minute. They have since struggled to reach those heights again, finishing 10th, 3rd, and 16th. They came into this year’s tournament ranked #9 in the world by FIFA after their 4th place finish at the Algarve Cup in Portugal, where they lost the 3rd-place match 0-0 (6-5) against Canada.

Though both teams are assured a spot in the round of 16, the winner will likely be the top seed in the next round. Germany and France each have nine points and a +6 goal differential, so the winner of US-Sweden would likely better either of them. Among teams that still have a shot at nine points — England, Netherlands, and Canada — none of them has a goal differential of more than +3. Is it possible they end up with a better differential than Sweden or the U.S.? Sure. But it’s extremely unlikely.

There’s an argument being floated that the team would be better off losing. A win could mean having to get past France and England just to get to the final, while a loss could mean having to beat only Germany. Taking a dive is never a good strategy unless you’re playing poker maybe.

Plus, there is a small grudge to be addressed, over the fact that the Swedes handed the USWNT their earliest exit in an international tournament when they defeated them in the quarterfinals at the Olympics. The U.S. is 13-6-4 with a 41 to 22 goal advantage in 24 matches against Sweden and that record is sure to improve this week.

Watch the USWNT take on Sweden in the 2019 Women’s World Cup Thursday at 3pm ET on FOX.