The US Women’s National Team demolished the Thai team in a pool play round game in the Women’s World Cup by the score of 13-0. There is no optimal way to get out of this game.
For the United States, their objective of the game once it got out of hand in the 56th minute is to show up for the next game with a full roster that is healthy, that is confident, that is clicking and that is eligible to play. The US coach pulled two of her better offensive players when it was 7-0. Six minutes before that, the score was only 3-0. No coach at that level will be moving a player cold from the bench to the field. An under six minute decision cycle is fast. And once the bench was as empty as it could be, the Americans could either continue to play their game of counter-attack and press (which is what they did) or they could discombobulate themselves with pointless (and insulting) back third to mid-third possession. They played their game.
The Thai team hung for as long as they could and then they got overwhelmed. It happens. If they did not want to get demolished, they had choices. They could try to play defense with ten or eleven behind the ball. They could actually control the ball and establish a mid-field game. That is tough. Or once the game got out of hand, the coach could have put the last two options on the bench in at the sixtieth minute with the instruction that if any of the substitutes had no plastic pulled on them in the next ten minutes, this would be their only playing time. A few over the ball, studs up challenges would have slowed the American team down. The American coaches, whose incentive once the score went out of reach is to keep the team healthy and available for the next match, would have gotten a clue. The Thais picked up a single yellow for the entire match. This was a choice.
The referee team is in a no win situation. Refereeing at a major FIFA tournament is a cut-throat business. Every game, every decision is evaluated and assessed. In a game that is not competitive, the referee team only has downside risk. Their decisions can only be held against them if they missed a foul or issued a direct free kick when there should have been a caution. Good decisions are expected and there is no opportunity to demonstrate game management skills.
The objective of the referee team is to fairly and appropriate apply the laws of the game to the contest on the field to facilitate a safe and fair display of skill. As long as the Americans are pressing forward and the Thais are not going studs-up into throw-ins, there is nothing for the referees to do. A lot of the little hacks that referees at far lower levels can get away with aren’t available to a World Cup crew. They can’t cut stoppage time, they can’t hear thunder miles away, they can’t make an observation to a midfielder that the game is out of reach and injuries are a concern for next week and that the midfielder should ponder that observation. Their incentive is to treat the game as if it is 2-2 in the 88th minute.
At far lower levels (high school, youth developmental leagues) the referee can shape the game in the interest of getting out of the game as quickly and with as little accidental or temperamental plastic shown as possible. But the Women’s World Cup is not a U-15 boys game whose players are strong enough, dumb enough and just skilled enough to “accidentally” destroy someone’s knees out of frustration. In the WWC, all the players are strong enough, smart enough and skilled enough to intentionally destroy a knee if that is what they choose.
13-0 is a no win situation for everyone on the field. But in a professional game with professional players, those days happen.