REIMS, France — Huddled in a hotel courtyard, about a dozen young soccer players draped in American flags sang and danced in front of reigning world champions in the sport.
Beyoncé’s voice came through the speaker — “Who run the world? Girls!” — and they took turns stepping into the spotlight. When one girl dipped to the ground and twirled, the United States women’s national team collectively laughed, whooped and said she was the “[Emily] Sonnett of the group.”
The USWNT had just arrived in Reims, France, Friday evening. While the rest of the country turned its attention to the opening match of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Paris, which France won 4-0 over South Korea, the U.S. players settled into Champagne country about an hour northeast. They will begin training there Saturday before playing their first match Tuesday against Thailand at Stade Auguste-Delaune.
“I am very happy and emotional because these are the world champions. So, it’s very significant for us,” said 12-year-old Yaelle Gouet, part of the group of youth players who welcomed the USWNT to Reims.
“I am very happy!” Another cried out.
They spoke slowly in English, having just started language lessons two years ago.
Their favorite players?
They answered one by one.
“And Rose Lavelle.”
One of the city’s deputy mayors, Stéphane Lang, gave a brief speech to welcome the team to Reims. He spoke about the city’s history of women’s soccer and how it supports the players in their quest for equality. He then wished them success and a champagne toast at the end of the tournament.
“Reims is probably the most America-friendly city in France,” Lang said through a translator, drawing laughs from the small crowd. “Reims was completely destroyed after the first World War, and the liberation of France was done by the Americans 100 years ago. One thing you might not know is that women’s football in France started in Reims, so we are fighting for you and your battle for salary equality.
“So as the champions of 2015, I wish you the best this tournament. I expect the fans to support you for your game in a few days.”
Outside, the U.S. tour bus sat parked in front of the hotel. A mother and daughter posed in front of it for a quick selfie. Cécile Derbès, 53, is a Champagne native who owns a vineyard in France and maintains a small winery and home in California as well. She and her daughter, Marie-Cécile, 13, saw the tour bus roll by and followed it.
“We saw the Thailand team over there,” Derbès said, pointing down the street. “So I took a picture, and then I saw the bus and I said, ‘Oh, we have to go see what is going on!'”
Flags emblazoned with the World Cup logo flapped along the sides of the city’s renowned Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims on the blustery 65-degree day. An information booth was set up on one of the main streets lined with brasseries and big-name retail stores, such as Footlocker and Zara.
World Cup signage is a bit more visible in Reims than in Paris, though far from overpowering.
But Derbès said everyone knows the World Cup is in town.
Norway and Nigeria play their Matchday 1 there Saturday. After the U.S. and Thailand play Tuesday, Reims will host another four matches during the tournament for six total.
“We have a paper called L’Union, it’s local. It is in the paper every day,” Derbès said of the World Cup. “The U.S. game is sold out, but we plan to buy tickets for the final, because I think they are going to make it.”