As the refrain of “I’m Proud to Be An American” rang out through the Power & Light District on Tuesday, Kansas City made another strong push for the title of Soccer City USA.
The event was a Women’s World Cup watch party, and thousands of fans witnessed the U.S. Women’s National Team knock off top-seeded Germany 2-0 and earn a berth in the championship game. The U.S. will face either Japan or England, which play at 6 tonight, for a shot at an unprecedented third World Cup title and its first since 1999.
Initially, Lake Quivira native Lindsey Bjerg was a little disappointed by the crowd when she arrived at 5:15. However, as people started to get off work, the KC Live! steps and seating areas that had become premier places to watch the Royals in the postseason last fall filled with fans clad in red, white and blue. Groups also filled the patios of the surrounding bars to glance at the large screen hanging above the stage.
“I watched the men’s World Cup last year and wanted to come out and support the women too, especially since we have four players from Kansas City playing here,” Bjerg said. “About halfway through the first half it really blew up, so I’m actually really happy.”
The four players she mentioned are Becky Sauerbrunn, Lauren Holiday, Amy Rodriguez and Heather O’Reilly, who all play for defending National Women’s Soccer League champion FC Kansas City at Swope Soccer Village. Sauerbrunn made her sixth start of the tournament, and Holiday had her fifth start in the match. Rodriguez and O’Reilly have also appeared in the tournament.
The watch party was hosted by the Blues, Sporting KC and WIN for KC, who have combined to play host to a handful of events during the tournament’s other rounds.
For Lenexa’s Jessica Leslie, the watch party was the perfect spot to catch the game with her daughter before a concert at the Midland. The pair are consistent supporters of FC Kansas City, and Leslie’s daughter, Sydney, plays for one of the club’s youth teams.
“This was convenient, and I think it’s great there are so many people here to support not only this club in FC Kansas City, but overall,” Leslie said. “There is not enough support of women’s soccer in this country yet, so this is great.”
Leslie, who grew up down Interstate 70 in St. Louis, has had the privilege of watching the sport’s fan base grow in two different cities. She said the progress since she moved in 1999 has been apparent not only through watch parties like this but through opportunities for adults and youth to get involved. She and her husband play in coed recreational leagues.
“Soccer, when I grew up there, was like it is here now,” Leslie said. “I love the sport, and so does my husband, so to be a part of it and see it blow up around town has been great. It is a draw for sure.”
The highlight of the night was when the United States finally broke through in the 69th minute on a Carli Lloyd penalty kick. The crowd erupted in cheers and “USA” chants. The Americans scored again in the 84th minute on a goal by substitute Kelley O’Hara off an assist from Lloyd.
Shawnee’s Regan Dugan took the hint to go to Power & Light from social media after watching the previous games at Sporting Park. He brought family and friends with him to cheer on the team.
“People say soccer isn’t big, but we are cheering for it and for America,” Dugan said. “Everybody was here.”
Event organizers closed the watch party by encouraging fans to come back and watch the championship game at 6 p.m. Sunday.