June 9, 2015 / 10:30 PM / 2 years ago

U.S. women's soccer team finds fervent fans in Canada and at home

4 Min Read

May 30, 2015; Harrison, NJ, USA; Fans cheer as team USA comes out for warmups before a game against the Korea Republic at Red Bull Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

(Reuters) - Chip Shop is a popular spot for Brooklyn soccer fans, but the restaurant was nevertheless stunned by the crowd that turned out on Monday night to watch the United States women's team make its 2015 World Cup debut against Australia.

Owner Chris Sell said the FIFA Women's World Cup had "never been that big" in past years. But then he saw his 70-seat British-style pub fill up for the live television broadcast, mostly with cheering women decked out in soccer jerseys.

They were rewarded with a 3-1 win for the Americans playing in a stadium in Winnipeg, Canada, in front of more than 31,000 fans.

"It brought a whole new genre of people in," said Sell. "Everybody was a little bit shocked."

The auspicious start for the U.S. team, ranked second by FIFA behind Germany, could help build support for the American women, much like the men's team experienced reaching the knock-out stages of the World Cup finals in Brazil last year.

U.S. teams have won the Women's World Cup twice, in 1991 and 1999, while the men have never reached a final.

In addition to having a team with potential to win the championship, the United States benefits this year from a convenient tournament location over the border in Canada, and more exposure in both broadcast and social media.

Fox Sports will air all 52 Women's World Cup games live, including 16 on the Fox network. Fox said that no U.S. broadcast network has ever televised 16 women's or men's World Cup matches.

On Twitter, players such as forward Alex Morgan and goalkeeper Hope Solo have more followers than U.S. male counterparts Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard. The team is promoting their quest for the Cup with the hashtag #SheBelieves.

There is also a daunting challenge: the United States is in the "Group of Death," with three of the Group D teams ranked in FIFA's top 10.

Scott Paul, who heads up a non-profit organization near Washington, DC, traveled with his twin seven-year-old boys to Winnipeg for the opening match.

"The atmosphere was electric. It was almost like a U.S. home game," Paul said.

'The Place Erupts'

The American Outlaws, a U.S. supporters group, turned the north grandstand into a swath of red, white and blue with chants of "USA, USA" from the moment the players walked out of the tunnel.

The glowing reviews for team and tourney contrast with the doom and gloom around FIFA, world's soccer governing body, which was rocked May 27 by indictments in the United States of nine former and current FIFA officials and five corporate executives on charges of racketeering and corruption.

Fans in Winnipeg pushed the scandal aside.

"Being a very deep soccer fan, I think I can overlook the FIFA scandal and just really care about high-quality soccer," said Chelsea Davis, 27, who came from Wisconsin.

Back at home, bartenders from New York to Los Angeles said that while the women fans were not as rowdy as the men, they are bracing for a raucous atmosphere when the United States meets Sweden on Friday.

"The place erupts when they score goals," said Brian Mullin, bartender at the Cock 'n' Bull British pub in Santa Monica near Los Angeles, where 100 people convened on Monday to watch the game. Like the crowd at Brooklyn's Chip Shop, it was more women than men.

One Los Angeles fan, Juan Ponciano, 30, said he plans to skip out early from work to watch the games. "We should win the whole thing, we really should," said Ponciado. "The women, they just play really well."

Writing by Mary Milliken in Los Angeles; Editing by Grant McCool

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