PARIS — The U.S. women don’t want to hear about their late-game goal celebrations.
Actually, they don’t want to hear about anything.
Since arriving in France for the World Cup, the Americans have spoken frequently about “the bubble.” They’ve closed ranks, and largely closed themselves off, to stay focused on their quest for a second consecutive World Cup title.
They’re passing on the news of the day in favor of books or shows they’ve been saving. Many players have deleted their social media apps or are simply going silent on them.
The few who are still visible are mostly posting photos of teammates. Or, in Jess McDonald’s case, adorable photos of her son.
“It can be really consuming if you’re caught up in it,” Sam Mewis said Thursday. “We’re just staying focused on our goal here, to win. Everything else is just secondary and not super important.”
The strategy has had the added benefit of insulating them from the vitriol directed their way after Tuesday night’s 13-0 rout of Thailand. Some, including a surprisingly large number of Canadians, have taken issue with the Americans’ celebrations as the goals piled up.
They have been called classless and arrogant. They’ve been told they’re horrible role models and need a lesson in sportsmanship. Some have even said they’re simply a reflection of Donald Trump’s America – which is quite hilarious if you know anything about the team.
Never mind that the celebrations weren’t the crusher to Thailand, the goals themselves were. Or that tempering their celebrations and enthusiasm would have been patronizing, a sign the Americans didn’t think the Thai players could handle it. The critics want the Americans to know how they feel and they’re letting them hear it, not realizing the ire is falling upon deaf ears.
“I don’t really think we as a team are super involved in watching and reading a lot of media about ourselves, to be honest,” Mewis, who scored two of the goals, said when asked about the criticism. “We had heard that there were some things going on. We’re really just trying to focus on the next game and on Chile.
“We respect Thailand a lot,” she added, “and we’re just looking at the next game now.”
The U.S. women play Chile on Sunday in their second Group F game.
Story continues below video:
SportsPulse: If you're complaining about the USWNT's dominance and exuberance in their historic beatdown of Thailand, then the World Cup isn't for you.
Focus looks different to every athlete and it often depends on the importance of the event. A friendly two years from now isn’t going to carry the same weight as a game at the Olympics or the World Cup. But learning how to get in a zone and block out distractions – good and bad – is critical for success.
Especially for a team like the Americans.
The U.S. has been the world’s top team for most of the last 30 years, and the Americans come to every major international tournament with a target on their back. Several of their players – Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Julie Ertz – are commercial stars, with a cachet that goes beyond soccer.
Anything – everything – the Americans do is cause for discussion, and the noise would become a cacophony if they’d let it.
So they don’t. Rather than trying to block out the noise, they simply mute it.
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“I haven’t been on social media since we left,” goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher said Sunday, two days before the opener.
“One of the things I learned going through this whole process in 2015 (as a backup) is the importance of creating boundaries and how to go about getting into that bubble, whether it’s personally or with the team,” Naeher said. “Everyone has their own version of it and their own way of doing that. The most important thing is finding what works for you.”
Coffee seems to be the No. 1 solution. Several of the Americans were spotted at the coffee shop near their hotel in Reims, and Mewis listed that first when asked what the team does to occupy its time when it’s not training.
There are also team meetings and recovery sessions. Oh, and meals, too.
“We’re just eating and resting and having coffee,” Mewis said.
And not listening to the haters. Or anything else.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour
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