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USWNT fans gather for watch parties during World Cup win, hopeful sport will grow

Fans gathered throughout country to cheer on Americans

Fans react during a USWNT Women's World Cup final watch party at Lake Eola in Orlando, Fla., Sunday. (Phelan M. Ebenhack for the Orlando Sentinel)

Amid a crowd of red, white, blue and purple gathered at the Lake Eola amphitheater in Orlando, Fla., Sunday to watch the U.S. women’s national team defeat Netherlands 2-0 to win a World Cup crown.

Becca Haidet, 28, stood out in the crowd.

When she was younger, Haidet lived in the Netherlands for four years with her aunt, who was in the military. She fell in love with soccer while watching the Euros.

She joined Orlando fans dressed head-to-toe in orange, including a Dutch jersey and windmill glasses. Her boyfriend, 28-year-old Stephen Cornell, sat next to her in a United States jersey and watched with a bemused grin as Haider drew stares.

“It’s been fun, even when we knew we’d be cheering against each other,” Haidet said. “I haven’t too many opportunities to cheer for [the Netherlands] against the U.S., so it’s something I’ve really enjoyed.”

Pedro Meza brought his daughters, Anna and Leah, to watch the game in matching Orlando Pride jerseys. As a soccer coach, Meza brought up both of his daughters to play and watch the game. He takes them to Pride games regularly so they can see their favorite players up close, and Anna sported an Alex Morgan autograph on her left sleeve.

The U.S. women’s team gives Meza an opportunity to teach his daughters to believe in themselves.

“The way they represent themselves and the way they play the game, it’s a great experience for them,” he said. “It gives them courage to follow their dreams. Especially [Anna.] She looks to them as role models. She wants to be one of them someday.”

Orlando was one of many cities from coast to coast cheering on the Americans during their World Cup win.

Boston, Kansas City, Chicago and other major hubs hosted massive viewing parties.

In Nashville, Tenn.; Durham, N.C.; and New York City, smaller groups gathered at bars and outdoor spaces where they had a chance to cheer in unison.

Many closed the day singing “We are the Champions” while watching the Americans collect their World Cup medals and trophy.

Nashville roars

Elliott Woods made sure he could watch the Women’s World Cup even if he was hundreds of miles away from home. 

Woods, a 21-year-old youth soccer coach from Michigan, was in Nashville’s Tailgate Brewery Music Row watching the U.S. win. 

His family decided to take a road trip to Nashville. While in the area, his older brothers searched for places to watch the game. 

They landed at Tailgate Brewery and Woods among a few hundred fans. 

Fans were decked out in USWNT jerseys, face paint and bandanas.

The celebration reached a climax when the final whistle blew. 

Jessica Wyrick, who lives in Nashville, was also watching. She joined in the celebration after each goal and at the close of the match. Wyrick went Sunday to support the team and the sport after playing soccer from third grade up until high school.  

She said she has seen the support for the USWNT and the sport grow since the 1999 World Cup. However, Wyrick said there are still some strides to be made. 

“The men’s [Gold Cup Final being] scheduled the same [day], they would never have done that for the men last year,” she said. “There’s girls out there that women’s soccer has changed their belief in what they can do. It’s just kind of being stifled. It’s there, but they just don’t get enough.” 

Woods agreed. Both will continue to watch women’s soccer now that the World Cup is over. 

“I’d just say take the risk,” Woods said. The sport of soccer is loved all over the world. I don’t think it’s different with women’s [soccer]. I think it just needs to be more this way on a national level. I think the World Cup has done an excellent job of that.”

Brooklyn hot spot

Dumbo Archway in Brooklyn drew a large group of USWNT supporters well before the 11 a.m. ET kickoff.

“We wanted to watch the game somewhere special, wanted to be around other people who were excited about the game,” said teacher Maddie Resch, 26. A resident of Brooklyn, she was with her mother, who was in town from their native Chicago for the weekend.

“I watched the other games by myself and it wasn’t the same,” said fellow teacher Bria Lawrence, 23. “Just to be surrounded by people who care as much about the game as I did” was more than enough reason to get up early on a Sunday morning and head outside.

It was a pro-U.S. crowd, though there were some Netherlands supporters. For brief moments, those supporting the Dutch were particularly vocal, but were mostly drowned out by the people rooting for the eventual champions.

It’s unclear whether World Cup fever will translate into increased support for the National Women’s Soccer League. Resch and Lawrence expressed an interest in following the national team and the league now that the tournament has ended.

Lawrence suggested American soccer leaders should “keep financial support, fund [the sport] more” to encourage future generations to continue in the U.S. team’s path.

Paul Syroka, a 50-year-old who works in sales, said he was a far more casual fan.

Most attendees of the Dumbo watch party were pleased to root for the U.S. team off the field. In addition to developing a reputation of being serial winners, Syroka said he liked that “they stand up for women’s rights,” making the team easier to root for than the U.S. men’s team for him.

Naturally, the topic of the team’s gender discrimination lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation came up. An event host asked, “Do you think [the women’s national team] should get paid more than the men?” before the match began, and the crowd applauded loudly.

“Women players deserve pay equity,” Resch said. “I think that that’s something as a casual watcher, someone who cares a lot about feminism and social justice issues, as a teacher of high schoolers who love soccer and play soccer, a lot of young girls play soccer, I want them to feel like they’re entering an industry that supports them.”

Bar crowds back USWNT

By 10:30 a.m., Boulton & Watt – one of 10 bars across New York City hosting formal 2019 Women’s World Cup final watch parties – was packed as supporters decked in red, white and blue U.S. kits sat in booths, on bar stools or stood to watch the World Cup final.

Less than three hours later, the bar was pure pandemonium as its patrons celebrated a 2-0 U.S. victory.

There were loud cheers when Megan Rapinoe put the U.S. ahead from the penalty spot. They also roared when Rose Lavelle doubled the lead. Then the enthusiasm hit a fever pitch when the U.S. was officially named world champions.

Jay Underwood, a school principal from Atlanta who moved to New York City on Saturday, predicted Rapinoe would score the game winner from the penalty spot.

“I’ve followed more and more as the tournament has gone on,” Underwood told Pro Soccer USA before the game. “I am interested in where politics and sports come together, and am really proud of Megan Rapinoe.

“I think that women’s soccer has the potential to be like women’s tennis, where people will watch it as much as men’s tennis because they appreciate the level of play. I’m a casual sports watcher, but when things go well I want to see the teams do well. There’s a high level of competition and it’s great to see the women come so strong in that regard.”

The U.S. women’s national team filed a lawsuit on March 8 for equitable pay. Many players have said they would choose to focus on mediation with U.S. Soccer after the Women’s World Cup.

“I’m a big soccer fan and I’ve supported the players in this tournament because there are big things going on behind the scenes,” said Julian Wagner, a native Californian who moved to New York six years ago and attended the watch party at Boulton & Watt with his friend, Alexandria Alcala.

“I hope they win their court case and get equal pay.”

 

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