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#pounditWednesday, November 29, 2023

Alexi Lalas has warning for US women’s soccer team

Alexi Lalas with a microphone in front of his face

Apr 2, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; ESPN announcer Alexi Lalas prior to the game between USA and Mexico during a friendly match at University of Phoenix Stadium. The game ended in a 2-2 tie. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Alexi Lalas has a warning for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT).

Lalas, who played for the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team in the 1990s, is now an analyst for FOX. He sent a tweet on Sunday, several hours after the USWNT lost to Sweden on penalty kicks in the Round of 16 at the Women’s World Cup in Australia.

“Don’t kill the messenger. This #USWNT is polarizing,” Lalas said of the women’s soccer team. “Politics, causes, stances, & behavior have made this team unlikeable to a portion of America. This team has built its brand and has derived its power from being the best/winning. If that goes away they risk becoming irrelevant.”

Though Lalas prefaced his tweet by saying “don’t kill the messenger,” plenty of people who were unhappy with the message attacked him in response. But his point stands.

The USWNT really was put on the map when they won the 1999 Women’s World Cup on Brandi Chastain’s penalty kick. Chastain ripped off her shirt in a moment of celebration and made headlines and magazine covers. Her actions, and the team’s victory, resulted in thousands of young girls across the country wanting to play soccer. The team’s win also turned many members of the team into household names.

Then in 2011 and 2015, Americans again united in support of the team in the Women’s World Cup. Though the squad lost to Japan in 2011, they won in 2015 and were beloved. Players like Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd, Hope Solo and Alex Morgan became household names.

As someone who has operated a sports website for 16 years, I can tell you
there was no team more unanimously beloved in the country than the USWNT. And then things changed.

The team began using its platform to send political and social messages. They kneeled for the national anthem of the country they had chosen to represent in international competition. They became divisive.

Megan Rapinoe became the face of this movement and remains a polarizing figure. One teammate said she bullied others into taking action. Those who agree with Rapinoe’s politics love her for taking the stands she did and using her platform to share those messages. Those who disagree with her politics dislike her for kneeling against the country they love. And then there were plenty of people — including some of her teammates — who felt she was just impeding what they wanted: to focus on soccer.

There is no debate about what Lalas has said: the team has become polarizing. They are unlikable to the people in America who feel the team’s players have disrespected the country. But whether they become irrelevant, as Lalas warned, remains to be seen. Bringing the focus of the team back to soccer rather than political messaging might help their on-field efforts and results.


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