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Larry Stone: As World Cup final nears, U.S. women don’t care what anyone thinks of them. Nor should they.

UPDATED: Sat., July 6, 2019, 6:19 p.m.

United States' Megan Rapinoe attends a press conference at the Stade de Lyon, outside Lyon, France, Saturday, July 6, 2019. US will face Netherlands in a Women's World Cup final match Sunday in Lyon. (Francois Mori / Associated Press)
United States' Megan Rapinoe attends a press conference at the Stade de Lyon, outside Lyon, France, Saturday, July 6, 2019. US will face Netherlands in a Women's World Cup final match Sunday in Lyon. (Francois Mori / Associated Press)
By Larry Stone Seattle Times

These women of the U.S. soccer team, you simply can’t ignore them.

They won’t let you, for one thing. Every World Cup game is another assault of talent, attitude and audacity.

And for another, why would you want to? It’s the best show around, 90 minutes-plus of riveting soccer and mesmerizing theater. Look away at your own risk, and ignore to your detriment.

Some are criticizing the American women, of course, for being…what? Too brash. Too arrogant. Too boastful. Too political.

But as the U.S. prepares to meet the Netherlands for the championship on Sunday morning, I would swat away those claims like American goalie Alyssa Naeher against England.

Abby Wambach, the great star of past World Cups, stated that critics needed to “stop judging these women with patriarchal glasses.” I’m trying hard to judge them on their own merits – and they truly stand up to any standard that I would put on a sports team.

Here’s what I see: A team that doesn’t have to apologize for anything. And from the very first match, when the Americans ran up a 13-0 rout of Thailand, they’ve been raising hackles and offending tender sensibilities.

How dare they pour it on the poor, overmatched Thai team? How dare they celebrate those extraneous goals? How dare Megan Rapinoe speak out against the president? How dare the U.S. scout the hotel in Lyon where they would be staying for the final – before they had qualified, and while the British were still staying there? How dare Alex Morgan mark a huge goal in the semifinal win over England by pantomiming that she’s sipping tea?

I hearken back to the saying that was first put forth by historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: Well-behaved women seldom make history.

And that might be the best attribute of these women: They don’t adhere to anyone else’s standard of how they should behave, even (or especially) those with patriarchal glasses. They are true to themselves, and I think most Americans ultimately respect that – hence the fanatical following and high ratings.

I think Rapinoe said it best, after the Thailand match: “I think our only crime was an explosion of joy … and if our crime is joy, then we’ll take that.”

One of my favorite moments came after the barrage of criticism for over-celebrating in the 13-0 win. After her first goal in the next match, Carli Lloyd pumped her fist in jubilation. Then she turned to her teammates on the bench and gave a polite golf clap, clearing tweaking the naysayers.

I think a lot of people aren’t used to women being demonstrative, playful, and, yes, cocky. It is a weapon for them. I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that some opponents are intimidated by the sheer confidence exuded by the U.S. team. When you couple that with the sheer talent that they possess, up and down the roster, it explains why the Americans are on the verge of a fourth World Cup to go with four Olympic gold medals.

Yes, they’ve put the proverbial target on their backs. The Dutch know that a victory Sunday would be greeted rapturously by much of the non-American soccer world. Any win over the American women in soccer, in fact, is an event to be savored by their conqueror.

You don’t reach that status merely by being dominant. The U.S. is that, but they haven’t been infallible. They didn’t win the World Cup in 1995, 2003, 2007 or 2011. They lost the Olympic gold to Germany last time out.

No, you get that status by putting yourself all the way out there, as the Americans have done. They’ve bet hugely on themselves, first by firing a lawsuit for gender discrimination three months ago (adding to the immense pressure already on them), and then by giving everyone they play a ton of incentive to knock them off.

But so far, no one has done it. And the women don’t seem to care what people think about them. They’ll keep on celebrating, tweaking and speaking out to their hearts’ content, I suspect.

Jill Ellis, the U.S. coach, said the USWNT theme heading into the World Cup was “Dare to shine.” As the competition progressed, she amended that: “Dare to shine the brightest.”

The Americans have been blindingly bright, and they seem to be vying among themselves to provide the most spectacular illumination.

Have they stepped over any lines? Oh, they’ve straddled a few, but I don’t begrudge competitors in an event as storied as the World Cup from celebrating each and every goal to their hearts’ content. If the teacup routine offended you, well, that seems more of an over-reaction than the act itself. I believe the operative phrase is, “Wah, wah, wah.”

I can’t wait to see the Americans cut loose one last time. I daresay that something bolder, brasher and more colorful than we’ve yet seen awaits us.

More power to them. In every way.

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