The U.S. Women’s National Team is in the midst of an impressive run in the FIFA World Cup, and several local high school girls soccer players have taken notice.
After starting the World Cup with wins against Thailand (13-0), Chile (3-0) and Sweden (2-0) in the Group stage of play, the U.S. women defeated Spain 2-1, France 2-1 and England 2-1 to set up a championship match with the Netherlands Sunday morning. Their success is inspiring young women all across the country, including several in East Mississippi.
Northeast Lauderdale sophomore Emily Benthall said she’s watched every game the U.S. women have played in the World Cup, and while she’s a big Mississippi State fan, she said she’s even more emotionally invested in the U.S. women than she is watching a Bulldogs football game in the fall.
“I play the sport, and it’s my favorite thing to watch, so I get way more into it,” Benthall said.
Being raised in SEC country, that may seem strange — but Benthall said watching the U.S. women is more than just a Saturday pastime.
“They inspire me to push myself, to make myself work harder and get better like them,” Benthall explained.
Between travel soccer and high school soccer, Benthall estimates she spends approximately 10 month out of the year playing. It doesn’t surprise her at all when she thinks about how much time the U.S. women must put into training.
“It’s hard to explain,” Benthall said. “If you love the game, you want to keep playing. It’s addictive.”
Clarkdale sophomore Raylee Pickard said she’s also watched every game the U.S. women have played in the World Cup, and she said she understands their success is a result of countless hours of training.
“They train day in and day out,” Pickard said. “The World Cup is every four years, so they’ve been working up to this since four years ago, training and practicing and getting better so they can be as good as they are.”
Lamar junior Emma Kate Uithoven said she’s had to DVR the U.S. women’s game due to her soccer practice schedule, but she’s seen enough to appreciate how good they are. Uithoven said the U.S. women’s dedication and hard work toward soccer is why they’ve been able to make it to the World Cup final — that and their talent level.
“The U.S. has the best female athletes in the world,” Uithoven said.
Since the women are representing the U.S. on an international stage, Uithoven said she thinks their dedication is a result of wanting to prove the idea of the U.S. having the best female athletes.
“To be your best is a lifestyle, and that’s what it takes to be the best at that level of play,” Uithoven said.
When Clarkdale freshman Kristen Phillips watches the U.S. women play — and she’s watched all of their World Cup matches — it’s apparent to her just how much they all love the sport.
“You can tell they’re so passionate about the game, and they’re all so talented,” Phillips said.
There’s more to the U.S. women’s success than their talent and training, however. West Lauderdale senior Lucy Green said there’s a relentlessness to their play that is consistent.
“The grit and determination really stands out,” said Green, who watched the U.S.’s game against Thailand and England. “They play hard every second of the game. Even if they’re up, they’re giving it their all.”
Phillips said the U.S. women are also good teammates, and their chemistry is a big part of their success. Their teamwork is the biggest thing that stands out to Phillips, who has watched every game the U.S. women have played in the world cup. Since her coaches always preach teamwork, seeing it in action on the big stage reenforces to Phillips how important working together is on the soccer field.
“They don’t get down toward each other,” Phillips said. “If they make a mistake, they forget about it and move on. They don’t focus on the mistakes; they push harder for the next play. It’s like they play their hardest every second of the game with or without the ball.”
With the success of the U.S. women has come some criticisms. When the U.S. shut out Thailand 13-0, many questioned whether or not they were “running up the score.” Green said she doesn’t feel like it’s a fair criticism because it would’ve been a slap in the face to Thailand if the U.S. lowered its level of play.
“Just passing the ball around is more disrespectful,” Green said.
Forward Alex Morgan also got criticized for making a sipping tea hand gesture when scoring a goal against England. While Pickard understands why Morgan would have gotten criticized for that, if anyone deserves to do a celebration, it’s Morgan.
“I see both sides of it,” Pickard said of the criticisms. “I can see where it would be slightly offensive toward the English players, but Alex Morgan works really hard, and she also has the most goals scored in the World Cup. It was a celebration, in my opinion — no different than an end zone dance in football.”
Pickard also said the U.S. women are naturally going to draw more criticism because of their success.
“Honestly, no one likes a winner, and they’ve been doing really well the past couple of years,” Pickard said. “It’s just kind of hard for people to accept they’ve gotten as good as they are.”
In watching women’s soccer, Phillips admits she’s gotten attached to a certain player on the national team.
“Alex Morgan is one of my favorite players,” Phillips said. “She’s a leader on the field. She’s encourages her teammates, and she’s always enthusiastic and excited.”
For Uithoven, it’s forward Tobin Heath — not just for her play, but also her personality.
“She moves the ball so well, and she seems like a nice person that’s very down-to-earth and note arrogant,” Uithoven said.
Green, who is committed to play soccer at Ole Miss, said having a good national team in the U.S. does a lot for girls soccer at the youth and college levels.
“They give us a great example of what you need to do to be a good soccer player,” Green said. “They show other countries that we have what it takes, that we have good club and college teams and good programs (in general). They show the determination, grit and sacrifices you have to make to be a top player in your country.”
And while she appreciates the examples they set, Green said she also appreciates watching them play. As a fellow soccer player, she’s able to understand their games better than she would have if she never kicked a soccer ball.
“I know exactly what’s going on and can see the small stuff,” Green explained. “I can watch someone and see what they’re doing and use that to help me personally with my game.”