The 2020 Olympic Games finished a few days ago in this bizarre 2021 summer — and for the United States women’s national soccer team, they weren’t great.
After cementing themselves as even greater champions by winning the 2019 Women’s FIFA World Cup for the fourth time, casual fans thought the team would be their usual selves once the delayed games began. They dominated in the Olympic lead-up friendlies, but some fans were concerned when the Olympic roster was dropped — and was revealed to be nearly identical to that of 2019.
You might ask, “But why? That’s the team that won.” The cause for concern is that this roster mainly consisted of veterans who will either be retiring after these Olympics or who had just recovered from injury or hiatus. Fans of the NWSL were concerned by the amount of young talent that was dismissed in favor of household names. The median age on this roster was 30.2 years old. Additionally, the new coach made some questionable line-up choices that caused even more concern as the tournament grew closer. But despite time zone difficulties, USWNT fans were ready to stay up late or get up early to cheer our champions on.
I’m not sure if it was the Olympics getting postponed for a year, the ongoing lawsuit over equity, equal pay and gender discrimination, or the fact that our women hadn’t played consistent soccer against any real competition for an entire year, but we looked bad. That real competition ended up being Sweden in the first match of group stage. USWNT didn’t just lose to Sweden 3-0. We looked old and our veterans appeared exhausted early on. It was a huge reality check for the team and its coach, who had been served his first loss since taking over the coaching job.
The loss occurred around 1 a.m. Eastern Time, and I later watched begrudgingly as I got ready for work in the pre-dawn hours. A pit dropped in my stomach as I worried about how the media would report on this. These were women who fought to receive more money because they never lost, and now they had. Thankfully, fans held their chins up and looked forward to the next game, but conservatives had already started making jokes.
The following week was better, but the team still looked like a shell of their 2019 world champion selves. They barely won, even after extra added time with penalty kicks. Their usual chemistry was nonexistent on the pitch and their energy was continuously depleted.
The stakes were high for our next match against rival country Canada, which was pursuing their first-ever gold medal in soccer. The winner of this match would move to the finals and compete for gold or silver medals, most likely against the tournament leader, Sweden. Both teams featured various veterans like Carli Llyod and Christine Sinclair, who could potentially plan on retiring as soon as these Olympics ended.
My phone alarm woke me up at halftime, around two in the morning. I watched the players struggle, missing passes and executing horrible crosses. Sadness cloaked over me like a cold blanket as the realization set in. We would not be competing for gold. The final whistle blew, signaling another loss — this one with greater consequences. Lloyd was seen kneeling on the field as the game ended, reflecting the exhaustion and sorrow felt by the entire team and their fans.
What shocked me the most following the USWNT’s loss was how the largest group of people perpetuating hate, and even celebrating our women’s loss, were conservatives and Republicans. Conservative commentators like Ann Coulter and Ben Shapiro tweeted about how this is what the “woke” and “un-American” team deserved. A slew of MAGA supporters joined in the hate, insinuating that this loss is a reason why the women don’t deserve equal pay.
Former president Donald Trump said, “Woke means you lose.” He continued his ongoing hatred of Megan Rapinoe by saying, “The woman with the purple hair played horribly.” When asked about the ex-president’s comments, Rapinoe responded, “Yikes, you’re rooting for people to do bad?” The majority of online criticisms were aimed at Rapinoe, demonstrating the scale at which Trump supporters hate her.
Rapinoe, two-time Olimpico badass, has become the unintentional face of the USWNT over the past five years. She has dominated media attention lately, and it’s usually not because of soccer. The pink-haired athlete made waves for LGBTQ+ representation when she came out as the first openly gay soccer player for the USWNT. She followed up that endeavor when she became the first athlete to kneel in solidarity against racial injustice with Colin Kaepernick. She also went viral for her response when asked if she’d go see Trump at the White House if they won the 2019 World Cup. Rapinoe has been a leading activist among the growing number of athletes who have decided to use their platforms for injustice awareness.
This garners her a lot of criticism. Conservative author Candace Owens called Rapinoe “an anti-American piece of trash” in response to the lackluster Olympic performance. Since the games began, there has also been a growing Republican boycott of Subway, which chose Rapinoe as their current spokesperson.
This past Olympics were rough for the USWNT, and our organization has a lot of work to do before 2023. We took home the bronze, but I know our women always shoot for the gold. I just hope the “America first” party can see past their hatred and cheer them on.