LYON, France — Alex Morgan had no idea her goal celebration was such a hit when she first came off the field.
At the time, she just wanted a celebration that could rival the ones produced by teammate Megan Rapinoe. So when she knocked in a header in the 31st minute, she stood still, popped her pinky out, tipped her head back and pretended to take a sip of tea — against England.
Pictures and video of the celebration instantly went viral on social media, and the image became the toast of the Americans’ 2-1 World Cup semifinal victory Tuesday. Most thought it a hilarious shot at England, one of the world’s biggest consumers of tea. Others found it more significant coming two days before July 4th, the day the United States celebrates its 1776 independence from British rule, and related the gesture to the Boston Tea Party that sparked the American Revolution three years before that.
Morgan’s explanation of the celebration was far more simple.
“I wanted to keep it interesting,” Morgan said after the match. “I know Megan Rapinoe has the best celebrations, so I had to try to step up this game. I feel like this team just has so much thrown at us, and I feel like we didn’t take the easy route to the final, and that’s the tea.”
She reiterated that message a few minutes later in a formal news conference setting with her coach.
“I don’t know. I was just thinking of all the noise in the background and the fact that this team has persevered through so much,” she said. “And so it was just a little of, ya know, pinkies up.”
When told the celebration was popular on Twitter, Morgan said, “Great. I haven’t been on Twitter.”
She went on shortly after, though.
“This team is special,” said Morgan, who also celebrated her birthday Tuesday. “Thanks for the bday love. Thanks for the rocking stadium. Thanks for continuing to believe with us. And that’s the tea.”
This team is special. Thanks for the bday love. Thanks for the rocking stadium. Thanks for continuing to believe with us. And that’s the tea.
— Alex Morgan (@alexmorgan13) July 2, 2019
Ignoring the noise
At the beginning of the World Cup, U.S. coach Jill Ellis and players said they created a bubble to block out noise from outsiders. But that’s been getting harder and harder to do.
The Americans’ goal celebrations prompted public debate. Their confidence made headlines as arrogance. Their gender discrimination lawsuit bubbled to the surface. The president of the United States criticized a team captain on Twitter. England’s coach decried a U.S. staff visit to his team’s hotel.
They can’t ignore all the noise, but it also isn’t negatively impacting their performances.
“I think it goes back to the mindset and the expectation. We are here for one thing, that’s it. Not lawsuits, not silly trumped up things, not external noise. We’re here for one thing, that’s to win,” Ellis said when asked how she keeps her team focused on the field and not external policing of the team’s behavior. “And so everything we talk about, everything we focus on is about that.”
She also said it’s something the players are used to because “it’s always this way.”
“When you are the premiere team in the world, in terms of world champions, you’re always going to have noise, external stuff to deal with,” Ellis said. “I’m around the players a fair bit. I don’t hear any conversations. The conversations I hear, they’re really talking the game. They are professionals, and that’s the best way to sum it up.”
England coach Phil Neville predicted Sweden will meet the United States in Sunday’s World Cup final.
Sweden plays Netherlands at 3 p.m. ET Wednesday to determine who will advance and who will play England for third place. Both teams have had strong tournaments and are rated similarly by FIFA. Netherlands is ranked No. 8 in the world and Sweden is No. 9.
“We’ve had the best 46 days of our lives. We didn’t want it to end and it’s not ended yet. We want to go out Saturday, beat Sweden or Holland — I think it’s going to be Holland,” Neville said. “My gut is that Sweden will win, but who knows.”
If he’s right, a World Cup final between Sweden and the U.S. would draw a lot of interest because of the history between the teams. The United States lost to Sweden in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Olympics and then beat Sweden 2-0 June 20 for the final group stage game of this World Cup.