The World Cup champion USA National Women’s Soccer Team opened its 10-game “Victory Tour” Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, easily cruising past Costa Rica, winning the international “friendly” match by a lopsided 8-0 score. But there was perhaps one number more important than the final goal totals, and that was the attendance figure.
Despite the fact that as a “friendly,” the game was essentially a glorified exhibition match with no other significance beyond bragging rights between the two countries — and also despite the fact that Pittsburgh is much more of an American football town than an international soccer hotbed — 44,028 fans swarmed into the football stadium better known as the home of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers.
The crowd was the largest to attend a women’s soccer game in the United States, outside of World Cup matches in 1999 and 2003, and Olympic women’s matches in 1996.
“We’re just here to celebrate. We’re happy to be back together,” said Christen Press, whose hat-trick led the USA scoring barrage in the team’s first game since the Women’s World Cup Final on July 5. “There was a smile on everyone’s faces. We had one practice, a quick meeting and here we are playing in front of 44,000 people.”
The victory tour will total 10 friendly matches, not all of which have yet been announced, leading up to the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament which runs from February 10 until February 21.
The USA women’s soccer team continues the 10-game stretch on Wednesday, facing the same Costa Rica team, this time at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tennessee. That facility seats fewer than 21,000, less than half as many as showed up for Sunday’s match in Pittsburgh.
The next eight matches will include showdowns against Brazil and Australia, with more opponents to be announced.
But for USA Women’s National Soccer Coach Jill Ellis, the tour is more than just a victory lap following the team’s historic third World Cup victory — but its first since 1999.
The coach will be looking closely at her players with an eye to assembling the Olympic qualifying roster.
“In my mind, it’s a certainly a celebration of the summer, but with such a short turnaround to Olympic qualifiers, this also has to be an evaluation period,” Ellis told Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
“Even in a World Cup, a coach is evaluating. We’ll give a lot of players a lot of time. With good opponents coming in, I want to use this opportunity to assess for the future.”
The USA National Women’s Soccer Team second “World Cup Victory Tour” match against Costa Rica will be televised Wednesday by ESPN2 and made available to watch live online via the WatchESPN site at this link. Kickoff time is set for 7 p.m. Eastern Time, 4 p.m. Pacific.
[Image: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images]