Why the World Cup format encourages teams like Team USA to score as many goals as possible, even in a blowout
Tyler Lauletta | 14 Days
The United States Women's National Team defeated Thailand, 13-0, in a dominant opening match to their 2019 Women's World Cup campaign.
Some criticized the USWNT for running up the score on their opponents, arguing that the 13-0 scoreline was an indicator of poor sportsmanship on the Americans part.
The 13 goals from the Americans may have been justified by the format of the World Cup that emphasizes goal differential during the group stage.
Had the USWNT eased up, it's possible they would have put themselves in a worse position to defend their title.
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The United States Women's National Team began their title defense at the Women's World Cup with a dominant, 13-0, win over Thailand.
While the Americans' play on the field was undeniably brilliant, after the game, the team faced criticism from some about running up the score on their defeated and deflated opponents.
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While casual fans and defenders of sportsmanship might take issue with what they saw as an unnecessary show of dominance against Thailand, there was a good reason for the American side to score as many goals as possible. Even if some were going to find the final score disturbing, it benefits Team USA because of the Women's World Cup format.
The World Cup is divided into two stages — the group stage, and the knockout stage. For the group stage, the 24 teams competing in France were divided into six groups of four, with the teams in each group playing each other in a round-robin format. The top two teams from each group, as well as the four third-place teams that finish with the most points, advance to the knockout round.
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Winning your group is critical, as it puts a team in a better position to make a run deep into the knockout round, and for the Americans, running up the score on Thailand was the best way to ensure they could win their group.
The United States is in Group F, along with Thailand, Chile, and Sweden. Sweden has become quite a rival to the American team in recent years, having knocked the USWNT out at the 2016 Summer Olympics without a medal.
It's entirely possible that the United States and Sweden both win their games against Thailand and Chile, and then play each other with the group on the line. If the U.S. and Sweden end in a draw, they will be tied atop the group, with the tiebreaker coming down to goal differential.
With the Americans playing Thailand first, Sweden knows they can win the group simply by drawing with the U.S. side and outscoring their opponents by more. If Team USA had stopped at seven or eight goals, as some have suggested, it would have been easier for Sweden to score eight or nine goals against Thailand than the 14 or 15 they likely need now.
The U.S. team would also likely have come under criticism for taking their foot off the gas when goal differential could have made the difference.
Instead, the Americans now have a better shot at winning their group and getting the more favorable matchup in the Round of 16.
The American players said as much after the match.
"When you're playing in a World Cup, every single goal may count," said Alex Morgan. "That's why we had to keep going."
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