NEW YORK (Reuters) - As the United States women’s national team clinched their fourth World Cup title on Sunday, fans across New York City gathered at local watering holes and match parties, striking an optimistic tone about the future of the women’s game.
“Women’s soccer in this country has really come a long way,” said Robert Miller, 69, who was visiting New York with his adult son and who decided to watch the match on the big screen at the World Trade Center.
Miller said the team’s back-to-back World Cup title wins, completed on Sunday with a 2-0 over the Netherlands, would help propel the popularity of women’s soccer in the United States “right down to the elementary school level”.
The tournament has netted record ratings abroad and the Stars and Stripes have enjoyed surging popularity in the United States, where interest in soccer has often lagged behind American football, baseball and basketball.
“Usually when there’s a soccer game on there’s, like, a full bar, not a full restaurant,” said Stephanie Juarez, 21, a hostess at The Distillery NYC, where a standing room-only crowd was glued to the World Cup final on the gastropub’s TVs.
“It’s very interesting to me, to be honest.”
An hour before kickoff, dozens of fans lined the block in front of Smithfield Hall, a popular soccer bar in Manhattan, some claiming a spot in the queue while their friends still slept.
“I didn’t expect a long line to be here,” said Cristina Carlos, 24, donning an Alex Morgan jersey. “I am happily surprised there’s a lot of people here to watch.”
The team’s on-field prowess and off-field fight for pay equity have netted them a rabid following among some American loyals, as well as plaudits from politicians and celebrities.
Late last month, Nike’s president confirmed that the U.S. women’s national team jersey was the top-selling jersey ever sold on the Nike.com site in one season.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino said last week that he wants to expand the field of teams for the next World Cup in 2023 from 24 to 32 and double the prize money to $60 million, amid a growing outcry over pay disparity between the men’s and women’s players.
Reporting By Amy Tennery; editing by Tony Lawrence