An hour before the U.S. women’s soccer team faced Sweden in the World Cup, 15-year-old Thalia Edwards waited with her eyes fixed on a jumbo screen in downtown Washington. She wore a pink headband — a nod to Alex Morgan, her favorite player — and a blue Team USA jersey.
Edwards represents a passionate portion of the fan base, but she was not the only young person inspired by the team’s record-setting run through its first three tournament matches.
Chris and Caleb Evans arrived at the outdoor viewing party Thursday afternoon on the lawn outside the Carnegie Library building on Mount Vernon Square even earlier than Edwards to stake out a spot with their mother. The brothers, ages 10 and 5, wore matching red club soccer jerseys. Their mother, Soroya, donned a shirt with the name of U.S. forward Mallory Pugh on her back.
“We watch D.C. United,” Soroya Evans said. “We haven’t caught a Washington Spirit game, but Mallory Pugh plays for the Spirit, so we’re definitely going to start watching more.”
A diverse crowd that included parents with nursing infants and men in work attire gathered for the watch party hosted by Events DC in partnership with D.C. United, the Washington Spirit, DC Fray and FitDC. The presence of the Evans brothers was particularly notable: They represent a growing portion of boys and young men supporting U.S. women’s soccer.
“I think [the Women’s World Cup] impacts the boys as well as the girls,” said Flo Egan, executive director of the Maryland State Youth Soccer Association. “They’re just as anxious to watch and cheer them on and learn things from the coaches and announcers.”
Egan recently returned from a regional tournament in West Virginia that featured 114 boys’ and girls’ teams in the 12-and-under through 18-and-under age groups. She said World Cup matches were projected on large screens around the complex throughout the day. Players and fans, including boys and girls, gathered between their own games to watch.
This week, Egan will head to another major youth soccer event featuring 249 teams. She expects the World Cup games will generate similar buzz as the U.S. women continue to advance.
Like Egan, Martin Kantai is involved in youth soccer in the D.C. area and has noticed broader interest as a result of the Americans’ dominance.
“There’s a bit of a transition,” said Kantai, who said he has coached boys’ and girls’ teams for the past 10 years. “There’s a greater interest also on the men’s side with the women’s game. That’s a new dynamic.”
Kantai said he believes the exposure of the event and greater coverage by media outlets, thanks in part to the potential of a U.S. championship, have increased younger fans’ awareness of the women’s game as well as international club soccer.
“You have a lot more informed people who now say: ‘Oh, okay. We have the men’s team. We have the women’s team. I can start watching different types of leagues, like English Premier League or La Liga,’ ” Kantai said. “Now people are starting to branch out because they are identifying what they feel connects with them.”
For some, the connection is to the potential for an American victory. Others simply love the game. Still others are drawn to individual stars.
“Alex Morgan and the rest of the girls on the soccer team” piqued the interest of Teddie Nguyen, 21, who came to the watch party to see how the Americans would follow up on their historic 13-0 win over Thailand in their first match. “Hopefully now they win the 2019 World Cup.”
Although the Evans brothers cite Lionel Messi as their favorite player, he did not lure them out Thursday afternoon. Instead, they watched a different wave of greats — with names such as Carli Lloyd, Julie Ertz and Morgan — attempt to cement their place in the history of the same sport.
“He loves soccer," Soroya Evans said of her son Chris, "so we try to go to as many games as we can. Especially now with the World Cup.”