MILWAUKEE -- There was beer spraying in the air after a shot ripped into the back of the net, a wide variety of bawdy chants during nervous moments in the match and even a fan wearing a Captain America superhero suit.
|U.S. fans are stunned as they watch the last seconds of the Women's World Cup final in a Milwaukee pub. (AP)|
They toasted goals - over and over and over. They slapped their foreheads after squandered scoring chances. And when the U.S. lost to Japan in a penalty shootout, it stung every bit as badly as it did when the men's team was eliminated by Ghana in last year's World Cup in South Africa. At least one fan walked out of the bar wiping away tears.
Highbury patron Shannon Stinson has family members from Japan, and hoped the Japanese team's victory might lift a few spirits in a country that continues to recover from a devastating earthquake. Still, she had a hard time putting her disappointment into words.
"I'm at a loss," Stinson said, pausing several seconds to think. "It's all right. It's good. I think it's done a good job of rallying the crowd to women's football, and football in general."
The U.S. team lost in gut-wrenching fashion. It gave up the lead in regulation, gave up the lead in extra time and then were uncharacteristically off the mark during the shootout -- a remarkable change from their stirring rally to beat Brazil, a victory that captured the attention of casual fans across the country.
Fans were watching just about everywhere, from New York's Times Square to Major League Baseball clubhouses.
After beating the Kansas City Royals in Major League Baseball on Sunday, a handful of Minnesota Twins players stayed around to watch the dramatic finish. Shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka watched in another room, a bet with manager Ron Gardenhire hanging in the balance.
If the Americans won, Gardenhire was going to make Nishioka wear a t-shirt that read, "I love American women." If the Japanese won, Gardenhire was going to have to wear a shirt of Nishioka's choosing.
"I wish I could trash talk in Japanese because he would hear all of it," Gardenhire cracked before the game.
Nishioka had the last laugh, coming back in the clubhouse to playfully taunt his teammates.
One thing became clear at the Highbury on Sunday: Some of the women's team's support from male football fans was at least partly based on their looks; a few in the crowd spontaneously yelled "I love you!" to images of goalkeeper Hope Solo and forward Alex Morgan when they appeared on television.
But Stinson said the majority of male fans she talked to respected the women's team primarily for its play. The Highbury crowd hooted "Pinoe!" almost every time Rapinoe touched the ball, a respectful salute to her skill.
"Granted, how cute are the girls?" Stinson said. "But these guys, they appreciate the sport, if it's men or women or whatever."
Among the crowd at Highbury on Sunday was veteran football executive Peter Wilt, the former president and CEO of the Chicago Red Stars women's team. The Red Stars, once a franchise in Women's Professional Soccer, now play in a lower-profile women's league.
Wilt doesn't expect a boom in football's popularity after this year's World Cup, but said the buzz over Sunday's game is yet another sign that the sport is making its way into the American sports mainstream.
"This is another really important step toward that evolution," Wilt said. "You're seeing it manifested in increased television ratings, [more] bars showing the game, increased number of people wearing football jerseys and paying attention to it. But is this the be-all and end-all of the sport? No. It's just another very important stepping stone on the way to making soccer a critical part of the American sports landscape."