An ESPN headline has come back to bite after the US women’s national soccer team were hammered by Sweden in their opening Tokyo 2020 Olympics clash on Wednesday.
The reigning World Cup champions and Olympic pre-tournament favorites went down 3-0 to the Swedes in their group-stage game at Tokyo Stadium, snapping a remarkable 44-game unbeaten streak for the Americans.
Four-time gold medalists, the US team were strongly fancied to make it another Olympic title this summer – although some may be reassessing that after a double from Stina Blackstenius and a goal from Lina Hurtig meant Sweden were the ones who started their campaign with a win.
As the women in yellow reveled in their victory and the US team licked their wounds after having their ‘asses kicked’, as Megan Rapinoe later described it, some online pointed to a pre-tournament headline by American sports outlet ESPN.
“Are Olympics too easy for USWNT, and too small for women’s soccer?” read the title for the piece penned by Caitlin Murray on July 16 – five days before the US started their campaign.
The article itself looked at the relatively small-scale nature of the women’s Olympic tournament and the fact that qualification criteria mean that many European giants are missing, making the clickbaity headline seem somewhat incongruous.
Nonetheless, it still presented an easy opportunity for rival fans to seize on suggestions that ESPN and its team were making assumptions of a US triumph before a ball had even been kicked.
Partaking in some mild schadenfreude after the USA – Sweden gameIf you ask if your team is too good for the competition and rank like half of your squad as the best of the best in the world (cough ESPN cough), universe will make things happen
— Chris Wozniak (@wlohaty) July 21, 2021
Wow, that is a stunning result for a tournament I was reading was “too easy” for the US women. May need to rethink that article, ESPN.
— Mike ☄️ (@SendAliensToMe) July 21, 2021
Murray, meanwhile, went firmly on the defensive, shifting any blame for the headline onto her editor.
Then I guess you’d know I never said the Olympics are too easy for the USWNT. My editor wrote that headline, which didn’t reflect what I actually wrote and was an SEO headline.
— Caitlin Murray (@caitlinmurr) July 21, 2021
Making matters worse, ESPN appeared to edit the headline after the US team’s battering, with the title now omitting any mention of the Americans (even if a Google search will still show the original version).
“Are Olympics too easy and too small for women’s soccer,” read the new version.
Elsewhere, a headline for a USA Today story written by Nancy Armour had claimed the game with Sweden would be the “perfect opener” for the US team at this year’s Games, seeing as it provided the chance for revenge against the nation that dumped them out of the quarter-finals in Rio five years ago in a penalty shootout.
That one also didn’t age so well.
Few would write the US team off just yet though, not least because of their formidable track record but also because the generous tournament format means eight of the 12 teams make the knockout stages.
The US play their second Group G game against New Zealand on July 24, before taking on Australia in their final group match on Tuesday.
In a somewhat cringey social media post, former US women’s star Abby Wambach wrote: “Last thing I would want to be right now is the next opponent of this team. Nobody puts baby in the corner.”
Her compatriots will hope that she’s right – at least for the sake of those headline writers at ESPN.