I think now I have heard it all. A coach criticized for celebrating her team's success? Not only is it absolute nonsense, it misses the point entirely.
Last time I checked, soccer was a competitive sport. The object of the exercise is to beat your opponent by scoring as many goals as possible in the time permitted. The margin of victory is only relevant in a competition where goal difference or head-to-head comparison is used as a tiebreaker.
Pia Sundhage is employed by U.S. Soccer to get results. Her job as head coach is to prepare, select and lead the U.S. Women's team to as many wins as she can. She is not a diplomat or a politician and her role has nothing to do with fostering good relations with rival teams.
She has been chastised for high-fiving her assistants each time her team registered a goal. All 14 of them against the Dominican Republic during the Olympic qualifying tournament in Vancouver. Apparently her actions were classless and disrespectful to the Americans' hapless opponent.
What was she supposed to do? She could have stopped the celebrating after five or six. She could have instructed her players to take it easy. Or, if she was feeling really charitable, Sundhage could have ordered her team to 'give' the Dominicans a consolation goal.
All nonsensical suggestions of course. Sundhage and her staff had every right to demonstrate their pleasure with the team's performance. I am sure she shook hands with her opposite number when the final whistle blew. In soccer, a simple handshake represents respect and is all that is necessary.
The act is the Dominican Republic was not good enough. Not nearly good enough to compete with the world's best women's team. The Americans cannot be blamed for that or for taking the chances as they presented themselves.
But it does beg the question: why is the Dominican Republic competing in the first place?
The qualifying process has expanded. The U.S. and Canada qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympics from a final pool of six CONCACAF teams. The Americans opened with a 6-0 thrashing of Jamaica, while the Canadians walloped Trinidad & Tobago by the same score line. The North American rivals duly met in the final and subsequently crossed swords again in a memorable Shanghai quarter-final.
This time there are eight nations at the party. Chances are the same two will represent the region in London next summer. The Dominican Republic is only one of the teams ill equipped to handle this standard of play. Haiti, Cuba and Guatemala are also well out of their depth.Quality, not quantity
Growing the game is all very well. I understand CONCACAF's desire to make the women's game more accessible and appealing. But by admitting teams who are not ready they are doing a disservice to the emerging nations and the credibility of women's soccer as a whole.
It has to be about quality not quantity. A one-sided blowout serves no useful purpose. For the winning team it's no more than a training exercise; for the losing team it's a humiliating experience and for the fans it's not a compelling contest which will convince them to come back for more.
We had better get used to it. When Canada hosts the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, there will be a field of 24 nations. There were sixteen. in Germany last year. While it is easy to remember Japan's glory and the French revelation, we have long forgotten the inadequacies of Equatorial Guinea, Colombia and, dare I say, Canada.
As hosts, the Canadians will not need to qualify. The tournament's expansion will likely allow four CONCACAF teams to participate in 2015. The Americans and the Mexicans will be shoe-ins but the decline in standard thereafter will be severe.
The truth is women's soccer, at the elite level, is not a global sport. Plenty of countries play the game but the investment and infrastructure necessary to be competitive is absent. Unless or until that changes, only a handful of nations will be anything other than cannon fodder for the big guns.
So don't blame the Americans for taking the game seriously. The U.S. excels because it spends time and resources developing and nurturing its talent. It is one of the few nations which has done so for many years and is reaping the rewards.
At the very least, it has earned the right to celebrate its successes.
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