United States women's national soccer team: A true sports dynasty
By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports columnist
You’ll see a lot of smiles if you look at the United States women’s soccer team through the lens of the players’ social media posts or their media interviews. There will be some cute dog photos. A splash of positive brand promotion. Plenty of warmth. Friendliness.
Over the past week, Alex Morgan chatted about her love of Taylor Swift’s music and showed off snaps of her adorable baby daughter. It’s all good, heartwarming stuff.
Try playing against them, and it’s a different story.
"Ruthless," then-England head coach Phil Neville said after the Americans prevailed in a hard-fought 2019 World Cup semifinal.
"Oh my god, ruthless," midfielder Julie Foudy thought when she joined the team as a teenager in 1989 and had to learn on the fly.
"Ruthless," the FOX Sports commentary team repeated on loop – for there was really no other word for it – when the U.S. began that triumphant 2019 campaign with the ultimate signal of intent, a 13-0 walloping of outmatched Thailand.
You don’t get to be exceptionally good at something without an absurd level of commitment and drive, and you don’t get to stay there without a certain mindset that embodies traits that are anything but friendly.
Arrogance, ferocity and greed don’t work well in the schoolyard, but the United States Women’s National Team isn’t here to play. For the past three decades, they’ve been here to win. They are tremendous role models, but if all you see is the feel-good cheer, you’re not looking closely enough.
"When you look at the tie that binds sports dynasties, it is the mentality," former national team midfielder and two-time Olympic gold medalist Aly Wagner told me this week. "Of course, you have to have talent — that’s at the base of a pyramid. What makes a dynasty a dynasty, it is the mental part of the game, like how Tom Brady excels. It is passed down from one generation to the next.
"A lot of it is learned. The strength, the grit, the fortitude, the arrogance, knowing that you and the people around you will do whatever it takes to win."
The comparison to Brady is a really good one. The timeless, title-hoarding, trophy-slinging Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterback has won seven Super Bowls in 21 years since being drafted. Since their sport was added to the Olympics in 1996, the U.S. women have claimed seven major titles (Olympics or World Cups) from 12 attempts in 24 years.
If not for the postponement of the Tokyo Games, that number might already have reached eight.
Wagner is part of the FOX Sports broadcast team for the SheBelieves Cup, which kicks off Thursday. The U.S. team takes on regional rival Canada (7 p.m. ET on FS1), longtime foe Brazil and late replacement Argentina (Japan was forced to withdraw) in an Orlando, Florida, bubble, with all games to be held at Exploria Stadium.
Did I say Canada is a rival? Perhaps in name only. The U.S. has won 50 of the 60 games between the sides and has lost just once in its past 63 matches.
"We don’t like them," Canada midfielder Sophie Schmidt told TSN — because why would you like the team that crushes the dreams of every other competitor, time and time again?
The Americans have more quality depth than any other nation by far, but that is only part of it. The commitment to winning, obsessive, insatiable – yes, ruthless – is the ultimate X-factor, and even now, more than 10 years into retirement, Wagner said it is still part of her.
"It never gets old," Wagner added. "Whether it is a board game or racing to the car with my kids, I still want to win. If you are someone who gets bored of winning on the national team, you won’t be there long.
"Whenever we did team-building exercises on the national team, it didn’t matter what, it was the most competitive environment you can imagine. The thought process was we dominate, then celebrate. It could be anything. Golf, card games, even political discussions at the breakfast table. Everyone was hungry to win."
In some ways, this is a new era for the U.S. team, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like it because this is a unit that has cruised seamlessly with barely a false step. Head coach Jill Ellis stepped down after the World Cup and was replaced by Vlatko Andonovski, who knows that anything less than more championships will be considered a letdown.
Stalwart superstars Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Morgan are still around, and fresh faces such as Cat Macario and Sophia Smith have created some buzz and are keen to make their mark.
If Tokyo does go ahead, the Americans will be heavy favorites, and the SheBelieves Cup will offer some valuable information for Andonovski as he finalizes his thoughts on which players should make up the final roster.
As for what the players are thinking about, well, we already know that. Just like always: winning.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.