Over the past month across France, the USWNT came, saw, and conquered—but not without some worthy challengers to their throne. Beyond America’s repeat dominance, it was an exciting and competitive tournament, full of chill-inducing highs, gut-punching lows, and mind-numbing Video Assistant Referee drama. To recap the tourney, we asked Ringer staffers for their favorite WWC memories—and for their messages to the U.S. Soccer Federation.
What is your tweet-length review of the 2019 World Cup?
Amanda Dobbins: THAT WAS EXHILARATING. (ALSO: PAY THEM MORE.)
Julie Kliegman: Pay. This. Team.
Michael Baumann: The rest of the world keeps advancing, but somehow nobody even put a real scare into the USWNT.
David Lara: [Bald eagle noises]
Shea Serrano: I greatly enjoyed it. I am a big fan of shit-talking and winning, and the USWNT seems to be the best team in the world at both.
Tyler Tynes: Lol, did we actually expect anyone to beat a team with Crystal Dunn on it?
Donnie Kwak: Football is a simple game. Twenty-two women chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Americans always win.
Who is your tournament MVP?
Serrano: It has to be Megan Rapinoe, right? She scored five goals in three knockout matches, won the Golden Boot thing, won the best player award, drew her sword against Donald Trump, and scored the go-ahead goal in the final.
Kwak: We should all hope to exude the unerring confidence with which Rapinoe picks up the ball and places it on the penalty spot. I can’t recall seeing a penalty taker who seems so utterly convinced of success before the ball is kicked.
Dobbins: The confidence, the memes, the SIX GOALS: Let’s not complicate this, it’s Rapinoe.
Tynes: Crystal Dunn. Close second is Jessica McDonald’s son.
Baker: I’m going to award LVP instead, for Low-key Valuable Player, given to the woman responsible for silence that spoke volumes. Step right up, Crystal Dunn, after spending all tournament having the competition try to step to you! Dunn’s career has been fascinating: She missed the last World Cup roster. She led the NWSL in goals. None of her current or former coaches can quite agree on what position she should play, because she can pretty much play them all. And, having been assigned to play defense throughout this tournament, Dunn handled everything that was thrown her way—most notably shutting down France’s Kadidiatou Diani in the quarterfinal.
Baumann: Abby Dahlkemper. So much of the American attack was haphazard or based on set pieces as Jill Ellis played a conservative game plan ill-suited for any opponent but France. Sitting back like that worked because the U.S. center backs were so good not only at absorbing attacks, but also converting opposing attacks immediately back into U.S. possession. It’s a testament to how good Dahlkemper in particular was that you barely knew she was there.
Kliegman: Rose Lavelle is a magician. All legs and sauce and bulldog content.
What was your favorite moment of the tournament?
Serrano: It was Lavelle’s goal to put the U.S. up 2-0 in the final. I liked it the most because, in part, it became clear in that moment the U.S. was going to win. But more than that, it was because it was just such an obvious display of individual brilliance that it was clear even to the most inexperienced viewer (which is what I am) that she was doing something special.
Kwak: I love a match that begets controversy, so my two enduring memories will be the penalty retake in the wild Argentina-Scotland group-stage match and the rampant shithousery on display in the Cameroon-England round of 16 match—followed by Phil Neville’s emotional rant.
Dobbins: Rapinoe’s second goal against France, with an honorable mention to Sue Bird’s essay about Megan Rapinoe.
Tynes: When USA made the whole world mad for throwing Thailand into the sun.
Baumann: The ongoing parade of scolds obsessed with American “arrogance.” I was sympathetic to the idea that the USWNT shouldn’t have put 13 past Thailand (and celebrated those goals) until I realized that just about everyone on that side of the issue had an ax to grind—Hope Solo, retired Canadian national team players, right-wing hacks, smarmy European (mostly English) analysts. This was never a serious conversation, it was sore losers crying to daddy, and each act of American exuberance was more delicious than the last.
Kliegman: The USWNT’s group-stage game against Chile—i.e., the moment the soccer world confirmed the team’s “scrubs” would have been more than strong enough to start for most other World Cup squads. Also, we got to witness the majesty of Jessica McDonald.
What was your least favorite moment of the tournament?
Lara: Anytime the tournament finishes it saddens me.
Baker: The Discourse post–Thailand trouncing.
Kliegman: The hand-wringing over how much celebration was appropriate from the U.S. I just can’t bring myself to care. If you’re in a World Cup and you manage to score a goal, let alone 13, celebrate however you goddamn please.
Serrano: Any of the days when the U.S. team wasn’t playing.
Tynes: Crystal Dunn not winning any awards.
Baumann: The French penalty do-overs against Nigeria. In the moment, it felt like the favorite was just getting unlimited chances to beat the underdog.
Kwak: I was really gutted that Ellen White’s potential equalizer against the U.S. in the semifinal was VAR-reversed because of a marginal offside. More drama followed with England’s failed penalty, but a tie game with 20 minutes to go was what we all deserved from a hotly contested match.
Dobbins: Anytime VAR was used for an offside call. I hate offside. It is always a boring technicality and it always ruins the fun.
VAR: In or out?
Dobbins: See above.
Tynes: Last I checked, VAR was quite American-friendly.
Serrano: I’m in whenever it helps the U.S. and out whenever it doesn’t.
Kliegman: I’m in on VAR! They need to iron out the kinks, but in the final alone, it was crucial in awarding the U.S. the penalty kick that put Megan Rapinoe and Co. on the board.
Lara: I’m in on VAR but they should adjust the rules because of some brutal PKs given.
Baumann: Out. If plays around the goal are going to be subjected to high-definition, slow-motion scrutiny, they’ve got to change the rules to suit that new reality. As it stands, we’re living under an unsatisfying relentlessly literalist interpretation.
Baker: Extremely in, both because I am a connoisseur of angry fans (a taste developed from years of covering hockey) and because it is SO bloody football to have a system with its own 4,000-word, eight-part Wikipedia entry that includes phrases like “a ‘TV-screen’ hand gesture should result in a yellow card;” “pitchside monitor;” “forced out of his post due to a corruption scandal;” and “glossary” when the whole enterprise could accurately be summed up as just: “video review.”
Kwak: Still on the fence. VAR is meant to aid referees after subjective, in-the-moment decisions, but it often only adds another layer of confusing subjectivity. After the rash of seemingly unfair VAR decisions that plagued the first half of the tournament, I started to come around on its benefit when implemented by a competent ref. Still, until FIFA tweaks the laws surrounding offside, handballs, and penalty infractions, VAR will be no less fallible to me than an unaided human ref.
Were we all wrong for criticizing USWNT manager Jill Ellis during the tournament?
Serrano: I mean, yes, right? Because they won the whole thing going away.
Kliegman: Absolutely not. The USWNT won in spite of her tactical decisions, not because of them. Start Lindsey Horan! Make meaningful substitutions! Calm down about washed Carli Lloyd!
Lara: Yes, because we won the whole damn thing. But also probably not, because the USWNT is so talented.
Tynes: Jill Ellis watched half her team bleed out on a pitch, let old players take up starter time, let hurt players onto the pitch, stifled young talent, kept the best midfielder in the world off the pitch in crucial minutes, and never played the best lineup possible in any of the games USA won. It’s all smoke for her, title or not.
Kwak: I think Ellis’s biggest misstep was excluding Horan from the lineup against Spain in the round of 16; otherwise, I think her game management was mostly good, and only criticized because of the unrealistic expectation that the USWNT should easily dispatch every opponent on talent alone. Ellis’s truest test will be how she eases out the old guard for the 2020 Olympics and 2023 World Cup and integrates new blood like Mallory Pugh and Jessica McDonald, and whether that will necessitate a new tactical mind-set.
Baumann: I think her game plan against France was spot-on, but her player usage was head-scratching. France dominated possession, but very little of it was dangerous. Apart from that, this cakewalk to the final would’ve been even easier if she’d had a better tactical tournament.
Baker: I sort of just thought about her like a golf handicap, and that way everyone wins?!
Who was your favorite non-USWNT player (or team)?
Tynes: Wendie Renard the Gawd.
Lara: Vivianne Miedema because she’s the Dutch version of Messi—and she’s a Gunner!
Kwak: I liked Norway’s Ingrid Syrstad Engen—for her steady game, and for the way she represented all of us reacting to a strange VAR decision:
And, after Brazil was ousted by France, the legendary Marta delivered an impromptu, impassioned, impossibly memorable mic-dropping speech. Your favorite Nike marketing exec could never:
"Cry in the beginning so you can smile in the end"— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 23, 2019
Marta's message for Brazil's next generation will give you CHILLS. pic.twitter.com/waDAFlgM4F
Serrano: Sari van Veenendaal, the goalkeeper from the Netherlands team, was incredible. If she plays even one single percent less than masterful, the U.S. would’ve won the final 7-0 or some shit like that. She was mesmerizing. It was like she had extra arms and legs.
Baumann: I love this Dutch side and I’m very happy that they made the final, but one of the best stories of the tournament was Italy making the quarterfinal in their first WWC appearance in 20 years (and winning a group that included Australia and Brazil along the way), right as the women’s game is gaining a foothold in Italy. Their striker Cristiana Girelli was my breakout star of the tournament.
Kliegman: Scotland’s feistiness had me captivated. Erin Cuthbert’s goal to put the World Cup debutante up 3-0 over Argentina may not have been enough, as the game ended in a tie—a lose-lose situation where neither team advanced to the knockout rounds—but producing a picture of yourself from your shin guard and kissing it is a huge flex.
Erin Cuthbert pulled this photo out of her sock after scoring at the World Cup. Her dad gave it to her before she left home. On the back he wrote: 'Do it for this wee girl who had a dream and practised and practised until it came true.' pic.twitter.com/2bIeRVQb2b— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) June 19, 2019
Baker: Phil Neville.
If you had one message for the U.S. Soccer Federation as the USWNT pay-equity issue goes into mediation, what would it be?
Kliegman: I have a lot of unprintable words for them.
Serrano: Pay them, you ignoramuses.
Tynes: Fucking pay them and DON’T look back. Then encourage everyone else to get paid their worth. And ensure the women of color on these teams are not paid less than their white counterparts.
Lara: Check the USWNT’s résumé!!!!!
Baumann: The USWNT deserves equal pay at least, and not just because they’re better than their male counterparts, but because equal pay for equal work is a moral imperative.
Kwak: I’ll let Uncle Snoop tell it.
Dobbins: I’d like to recommend some summer reading: the Equal Pay Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and the g-d scoreboard.
If you scored a goal in a World Cup, what would be your celebration?
Baker: A lot of wheezing.
Baumann: Allen Iverson’s hand-to-ear celebration.
Tynes: I would run into the crowd, take a shot of Crown Royal, and start rapping all the words of a Meek Mill intro track into the nearest camera while tying an American flag durag onto my head.
Kwak: I’m doing the thing where I run off toward the sideline, elude the joyous clutches of my yelping teammates, and beeline to the coach for a long, emotional hug. Then I’m looking at wherever the opposing fans are sitting to shush them.
Serrano: It depends on the team that I scored against. Because I would absolutely and without question tailor-make every celebration to be as specifically disrespectful as possible. I’d include costumes and backup dancers and fireworks. A marching band would come out onto the field in their underwear like in The Wolf of Wall Street. There’d be a flyover like they do at the start of the Super Bowl. Beyoncé would be there. Bruno Mars would be there. Deion Sanders would be there. A hologram of Selena would be there. It’d be a lot. Maybe the most.