They were cocky. They celebrated too much. They ran up the score. They ran their mouths. They were too political.

Critics had a lot to say about the U.S. women's soccer team at the World Cup in France.

But the team's growing legion of fans had a lot to say about the players, too.

They worked hard. They stuck together. They spoke their minds. They dominated. They triumphed.

The U.S. women won the quadrennial World Cup, which has been contested eight times, for the fourth time. The Americans stormed through nine matches undefeated. It began with a 13-0 defeat of Thailand, a result that sparked the fire of criticism to come.

Yes, the U.S. team ran up the score against a hopelessly outgunned foe. And, yes, their goal celebrations seemed insensitive and overly boastful.

But the team, clearly, was on a mission to dominate the competition, taking no prisoners on its way to glory. In that sense, the Americans' behavior on the pitch was the emotional fuel of a laser-like focus on the task at hand.

The defeat of Thailand launched a march through the tournament, parading the team's skill, athletic ability, determination and depth.

The final score in many of the U.S.'s other matches was close. But if you watched the games, you could see how the U.S. controlled the action and dictated the tempo.

Some who don't follow women's soccer closely might dismiss the Americans' World Cup victory with the presumption that the rest of the world hasn't poured resources into the development of the women's game.

In fact, this World Cup field featured several teams capable of upsetting the U.S.

For some Americans, what happened on the field became secondary to the controversy stirred by political views expressed by team members. Most notably, the team's leader, Megan Rapinoe, asserted that she objects to the behavior and policies of President Donald Trump and wouldn't accept an invitation to the White House.

Others were bothered by team members' ongoing quest for better pay.

Four months ago, 28 players filed a lawsuit, claiming the U.S. Soccer Federation practices gender discrimination. The women are seeking pay and working conditions comparable to that of the U.S. men's team, as well as back pay and compensatory damages.

Shut up and play, some shouted at the soccer players, paraphrasing Trump's directive to basketball star LeBron James.

But if you believe in liberty, freedom and the American way, you have to respect people who use their public platforms to express their opinions. And all of us can agree that every U.S. citizen has a right to petition for fair compensation.

As the U.S. team shed tears of joy and hoisted the World Cup trophy after defeating the Netherlands in the championship match, the controversy fell away and one sentiment about the team rose to the top.

They inspired.

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