Vahe Gregorian

Power & Light: U.S. women gave us both in World Cup triumph accented by Kansas City

Kansas City celebrates as U.S. wins fourth World Cup title

Soccer fans celebrated at the Power & Light District in Kansas City after the U.S. Women's National Soccer team defeated The Netherlands, 2-0, to claim the Women's World Cup championship on Sunday.
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Soccer fans celebrated at the Power & Light District in Kansas City after the U.S. Women's National Soccer team defeated The Netherlands, 2-0, to claim the Women's World Cup championship on Sunday.

For millions of television viewers Sunday, the center of the universe was Lyon, France, site of “La Grande Finale” of the Women’s World Cup.

But you’d have been hard-pressed to find a more concentrated core of energy stateside than the pulsating Power & Light District, where thousands sardined into every cranny to see Team USA put on a display of ... empowerment and light.

Aptly enough, the game-winning goal in the 2-0 victory over The Netherlands was scored by Megan Rapinoe. The World Cup most valuable player is a vocal proponent of equal pay for women’s players who recently explained her decision not to sing the national anthem by saying she loves her country but knows it can be better together.

Which is what this team stood for, too — better together as tremendous talents galvanized by their camaraderie. That showed up over and over in their obvious joy in playing for each other on the way to their second straight World Cup triumph and fourth in the last eight.

“I love these ladies,” Becky Sauerbrunn, formerly of FCKC and a St. Louis native, wrote on Twitter, punctuated by a photo of herself (cut above the eye and all) and four teammates drinking a post-game beer. “You’re only as strong as the people next to you and these ones were rock solid.”

Power and light on a day of national pride, a day where you could feel just as stirred by Rapinoe’s right to her convictions and social consciousness as by the beauty of thousands singing the anthem pre-game in the P&L that ultimately was filled to capacity for the first time.

If you didn’t know better, the guy next to you “on holiday” might have been tearing up even if he may have been confused by the “Chiefs!” part at the end.

“I’m from Australia,” he said, “so this is awesome.”

But that wasn’t the only way the scene here, which had been celebrated by U.S. women’s star Alex Morgan on Twitter with a July 4 photo proclaiming “Happy birthday America,” was a portal to the rest of the world.

Game coverage on Fox Sports cut to the phenomenon several times.

Enough to lose count, said David Ficklin, executive director of Kansas City World Cup 2026.

Often enough that the mother of a friend wondered if it actually was being held in Kansas City.

Speaking of which …

Kansas City is one of 17 United States cities seeking to host the men’s World Cup in 2026, when 10 U.S. cities will be among 16 sites overall in North America to hold the event.

The remarkable energy in the P&L and television ratings that have consistently been among the top-rated of local television markets have made for a fine “coming-out party” for those hopes, Ficklin said.

Those two entry points make for “an amazingly compelling” story for the consideration of FIFA and USA Soccer, added Ficklin, who hours afterward said he was getting goosebumps as he thought about the little girls in the crowd watching such great role models play.

Forty-seven years after Title IX paved a way to the rise of women’s sports that only continues to gain momentum with opportunity, though, you could see an even broader effect.

Check out photos from the US Women's team World Cup soccer win over The Netherlands Sunday, July 7, 2019.

If you looked around at the crowd that Ficklin estimated was around 10,000 people, counting those in the overlooking and adjacent restaurants, you might have seen as many men as women, boys as girls.

“I love seeing the diversity around,” said Liz Sowers, who was joined by, among others, twin sister Katie, an offensive assistant with the San Francisco 49ers. “I love seeing little boys wearing … Alex Morgan jerseys, not just little girls.”

Or as Ficklin put it, kids now “just recognize superstars (and) excellence” regardless of sex.

Seeking to seize the moment, KC2026 shortly after the game showed a video featuring superstars in their own right identified as bid captains.

The idea was to help shine the way ahead as it tries to secure volunteers, donations and 150,000 signatures (via KC2026.com) on a petition toward bringing the World Cup here.

“Kansas City is a world-class city; it’s time for us to welcome the world here — to the heart of America,” Sporting KC’s Matt Besler said.

Standing alongside was the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, who added, “Together, we can host the biggest event in the history of our great city.”

Together, added Besler, “We can make the center of our country the center of the world.”

Sal Perez of the Royals conveyed his message in Spanish, amplifying on Twitter to say “Help bring the World Cup to our great city! All eyes could be on us Kansas City.”

A little like it was Sunday as it basked in a team that will be remembered for its game and taking stands on everything from inequities in pay to its license merely to celebrate (see: Morgan’s tea-sipping) to its fundamental rights as Americans, a la Rapinoe.

Patriotism isn’t “my country, right or wrong,” she reminds us. It’s my country right or wrong as it was best applied by U.S. Senator Carl Schurz of Missouri in 1872 when he added, “If right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

Setting it right is what these women have stood for on and off the field.

“These athletes have brought more attention, support & pride to women’s sports than perhaps any other team in history,” tennis icon and social justice activist Billie Jean King wrote on Twitter as she advocated for their equal pay.

Certainly enough to make for a day like no other in the Power & Light District — a window to the world that could help stoke a momentous milestone ahead for the city.

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Vahe Gregorian has been a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star since 2013 after 25 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He has covered a wide spectrum of sports, including 10 Olympics. Vahe was an English major at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his master’s degree at Mizzou.
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