The United States women’s national soccer team exited the World Cup over the weekend, losing to Sweden in the round of 16. It was the earliest World Cup loss ever for the U.S. team, and came after wins in 2015 and 2019 and a finals appearance in 2011. Clearly the team didn’t live up to its tradition of excellence here, due to a combination of injuries, poor coaching decisions in the group round, Swedish goalkeeper Zecira Musovic’s heroic play (she made 11 saves), and, yes, a level of play that was never quite as lofty as recent years. These things happen in sports—but for Donald Trump and the right, this loss was an intensely political cause for celebration.
“The ‘shocking and totally unexpected’ loss by the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team to Sweden is fully emblematic of what is happening to the our once great Nation under Crooked Joe Biden,” Trump wrote after the loss, bad grammar and all. “Many of our players were openly hostile to America – No other country behaved in such a manner, or even close. WOKE EQUALS FAILURE. Nice shot Megan, the USA is going to Hell!!! MAGA.”
Trump’s reference to “Megan” is key here.
Longtime star Megan Rapinoe was one of three U.S. players to miss penalty shots as the U.S. lost the penalty kicks phase 5-4, but it’s Rapinoe who is a favorite target of the right, due to her outspokenness and her decision to take a knee during the national anthem from 2016 to 2021. She’s not the only reason the USWNT is so loathed on the right, but she’s the biggest part of it.
“WOKE EQUALS FAILURE”? I dunno, Donald. Megan Rapinoe was just as woke in 2019 as she is now, and at that year’s World Cup she won both the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball—awards for most goals scored and the tournament’s best player—as she led the U.S. to the championship. I think that the difference between 34 and 38 may be the major factor in her comparatively poor play in this tournament. (And to be clear, it’s a f’ing achievement to be on the USWNT at age 38!)
One right-wing personality after another celebrated Rapinoe’s actually fairly minor role in the U.S. loss, from Benny Johnson (“Team USA’s downfall was delivered by anti-America, anti-woman activist Megan Rapinoe’s EMBARRASSING free kick”) to @catturd2 (“The anti-American USA woke women’s soccer team has been eliminated and Megan Rapinoe is the cause of it. I can’t stop laughing”). Hilariously, Twitter had to add context to multiple basic errors in Johnson’s tweet: Rapinoe was taking a penalty kick, not a free kick, and he referred to the game as being in the “16th round” rather than the round of 16. Obviously this is a man who cares deeply about the World Cup outside of political point-scoring, huh?
But cheering against an established tradition of American greatness—to put it in language they might use if they were attacking progressives over opposition to a war or a U.S.-backed coup or something—because of one player’s politics is how today’s conservatives operate. It’s hard to overstate how obnoxious and deeply ridiculous this whole thing is.
If coach Vlatko Andonovski had used substitutions more wisely in the group stage game against the Netherlands, the U.S. likely would have won, rather than tied, that game and wouldn’t have been playing Sweden in the round of 16. If Musovic had failed to make any of those 11 saves, the U.S. could have gone up a point over Sweden before it came to penalty kicks. ESPN suggests that the U.S. youth program isn’t producing the players the women’s team needs. If Sophia Smith or Kelley O’Hara had not missed their penalty kicks. If U.S. goalie Alyssa Naeher had stopped Lina Hurtig’s penalty kick literally a millimeter sooner, before it just touched the line.
There are so many what-ifs here, but what tracks with the right wing’s viciousness is giddy celebration that a 38-year-old ended her incredibly successful career in a tournament she barely played in by missing her first penalty kick since 2018. Because she dares to be an LGBTQ+ woman who stands up for racial justice and equal pay and trans athletes. Because many of her teammates agree with her, albeit usually more quietly, on many of these points. Because for the right wing, women’s sports only ever matter as a political cudgel.
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It’s a joyous week in Wisconsin, where Janet Protasiewicz’s swearing-in means that the state Supreme Court now has its first liberal majority in 15 years. We’re talking about that monumental transition on this week’s episode of “The Downballot,” including a brand-new suit that voting rights advocates filed on Protasiewicz’s first full day on the job that asks the court to strike down the GOP’s legislative maps as illegal partisan gerrymanders.