Hundreds of soccer fans went wild Sunday evening at Finn McCool’s Irish Pub in Mid-City as the U.S. beat Japan 5-2 in the final match of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
As the Americans, led by captain Carli Lloyd, a 32-year-old two-time Olympic gold medalist, took an early lead, bar patrons chanted “USA! USA! USA!” and screamed, high-fived and did shots.
The team scored quickly and often, racking up four goals in the first 20 minutes of the game.
It was the fastest that four goals have been scored and the highest-scoring game overall in the history of the finals in the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“That was amazing. I mean, they just swept it,” said 34-year-old Las Vegas resident and social worker Stacy Bleser, about the game overall but particularly the first half. “I think it’s great for the U.S. and great for the women’s soccer team. It’s going to create a lot of morale.”
The crowd at Finn McCool’s was excited from the start, celebrating the early scores with screaming, chanting and even a few teary-eyed hugs.
“It’s so exciting, especially because we’re up 2-0 in the first six minutes,” said Alex Mata, a 26-year-old teacher from Dallas. “They’re about to get their World Cup.”
As Mata watched inside the bar, a storm blew rain sideways outside, and a few unlucky souls huddled in the doorway, waiting for a chance to enter the packed bar. A couple of times, the televisions sputtered as the electricity threatened to give way.
But the power held out, and so did the U.S. team. Within another 15 minutes, the Americans had scored another two goals.
“It’s mind-blowing. It’s awesome,” said 26-year-old geoscientist Christine Gammans. “This doesn’t happen in a normal game, much less a final.”
For some, the victory wasn’t just one for the American women’s soccer team. It also was a testament to the strength of women in the United States and the significance of an ever-growing movement to celebrate women’s rights.
“To many older Americans, this is just a game. To a younger generation, particularly to young girls, it goes far beyond that,” said film producer Philip Lawrence, 53, who lives in New Orleans. “It’s about self-esteem, confidence and female accomplishment.”
Cheryl Lanier, a Metairie resident who works for the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, agreed that the win was a significant milestone.
“Well, I’m almost 55, and I saw the beginning of women’s sports in the ’70s. It’s come a long way,” said Lanier, who was wearing a U.S. soccer flag draped around her neck like a cape and American-flag sunglasses. “Forty years ago, this would have never happened. That’s why it’s important to me. This is amazing.”
The two teams faced off in Vancouver, British Columbia, in the BC Place Stadium.
This marked the Americans’ third World Cup title. They won in 1999 on their home turf and in 1991 in China.
In 1991, the Americans faced off against Norway in the inaugural title game, known at the time as the FIFA World Championship. The U.S. won 2-1.
Eight years later, the U.S. played China before a crowd of more than 90,000 in Atlanta. The national team beat China 5-4 in a penalty shootout.
The 1999 team featured players such as Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain, who became a media sensation after her memorable winning kick and celebration.
The U.S. team was seeking payback Sunday after losing the 2011 championship game to the same team. Japan won that World Cup title, defeating the U.S. during a penalty-kick shootout after the game ended 2-2 following extra time.
Gammans recalled Sunday watching that 2011 game, remarking on how different the atmosphere was and how much the U.S. team had progressed since then.
“I was pretty disappointed by the end,” she said. “After we lost, the bar was mostly just silent for awhile.”
In 2012, the U.S. exacted some revenge when the team faced off against Japan again, beating them to win an Olympic gold medal in London. But Sunday’s game was a far bigger feat, fans say, as the U.S. won its first World Cup in 16 years.
America reached this year’s final after beating top-ranked Germany 2-0 on Tuesday in Montreal. Japan won against England in the other semifinal after an own goal by England — meaning an English player accidentally knocked the ball into her own goal — in second-half stoppage time.
The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup was the seventh of the quadrennial international women’s football world championship, and according to Gammans, it will be remembered for a long time in the future.
“You don’t get to see this ever, much less right now, during the final game,” Gammans said about the multiple scores the U.S. made against Japan. “This brings us better onto the international stage.”