USWNT sets friendly attendance record as U.S. soccer continues summer-long celebration

PHILADELPHIA - The United States Women's National Team owned the summer. It was evident during a seven-game tear through France where it never really felt like the team was capable of losing. It was evident during the subsequent title parade. It was evident with every headline, tweet, equality discussion and jersey sale.

And it was evident again Thursday night, when the team continued its weeks-long celebration in record-setting fashion. Nearly two months after putting a fourth World Cup trophy in its case and on the eve of Labor Day weekend, the USWNT continued riding a wave of momentum that started with a 13-0 rout of Thailand in the World Cup opener and shows no signs of crashing.

There were 49,504 fans at Lincoln Financial Field -- the largest crowd ever for a USWNT friendly. The game, the second of the USWNT's six-game nationwide Victory Tour, was as much formality as friendly, with the Americans beating Portugal 4-0 in a contest they led for all but the first three-and-a-half minutes.

But scores don't really matter on this victory tour. The nearly-50,000 fans showed up early to tailgate in the triumph, eating and drinking as sidewalk vendors peddled "Equal Pay" t-shirts. They stayed long after the final whistle, with young fans wearing the jerseys of their favorite players moving closer to the field for a possible selfie.

They showed up to be part of the moment, which seems destined to last beyond the summer.

"What does it say? It speaks volumes about our sport," coach Jill Ellis said of the record crowd. "I think the World Cup was such a showcase event that I think people get on board. This is an exciting team with great personalities. Ultimately what does a fan want? Entertainment. I think that's what they get with this group."

The usual USWNT star power wasn't out in full force in the match. Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Rose Lavelle, who all had their own standout moments in the World Cup, were resigned to the bench due to injury concerns. Still, there was no lack of chanting and cheering.

The largest in-game ovation came after Carli Lloyd, a native of the Philadelphia area, found the back of the net in the second half. Lloyd paid homage to her favorite NFL team after making it 3-0.

Lloyd's potential future as an NFL kicker has put the USWNT back in the sports debate spotlight -- a place other stars occupied earlier in the summer and will likely return as the team's pay equity lawsuit plays out.

On the field, the victory tour will continue with four more stops (in Ellis' four final games as the team's head coach). And many of the players are also playing in front of record crowds in the National Women's Soccer League. Next summer, a similar version of this team will gather for the 2020 Olympics in pursuit of a gold medal.

"You want it to continue to push the needle and move," Ellis said. "So when people come to the game tonight and enjoy it, they're going to want to continue to come back and stay invested in this team. In terms of popularity of this team, I think this is a team that has not just captured this nation, it's captured the world."

The effects of the USWNT's 2019 summer -- and the fans it gained during it -- don't appear to be going anywhere.

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