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For USWNT and its fans, a World Cup parade about more than soccer

Members of the U.S. women’s soccer team celebrated on the streets of New York on July 10 in the first stop in their victory tour. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)
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By Chuck Culpepper in New York

The 207th Canyon of Heroes parade since 1886, this one for the World Cup-winning U.S. women’s soccer team, felt like a celebration of the female athlete. From the outset down at Battery Park to the ticketed ceremony at City Hall, this appreciation for female humanity felt like an American habit entrenched by now, in part because it followed upon the similar World Cup ticker-tape parade of 2015. “They inspired us with incredible skill and flawless teamwork,” the city’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, said at the ceremony. “And they showed us that playing like a girl” — she applied a mocking tone to those four words — “is to be unbeatable.”

She closed with the day’s familiar chant: “U-S-A! Equal pay!” Soon thereafter, Megan Rapinoe, the veteran co-captain and Golden Ball winner from a team with the rare distinction of winning a World Cup while suing its employer for equal pay, took the lectern and proclaimed the team “just so badass.” She went on to say, “We have pink hair and purple hair. We have tattoos and dreadlocks. We got white girls and black girls and everything in between. Straight girls and gay girls!”

The City Hall audience roared.

Megan Rapinoe delivers yet again for USWNT — this time with rousing parade speech

The parade audience had begun gathering against barricades in the dawn hours, long before the parade’s outset. Girls and boys turned up in jerseys marked MORGAN and RAPINOE and LLOYD and HEATH. Vendors inched by selling flags and shirts with urges such as, “Be a part of history.” A sign recommended Rapinoe’s hairdo for president. At one building, people leaned out of office windows and tossed out confetti that, upon landing, often turned out to be some kind of outdated legal pages. At one point near the end of the route and still before the parade, up went the chant: “U-S-A! Equal pay!”

For a long while in history, the women cheered in Canyon Of Heroes parades tended to be queens or princesses or empresses. They included Queen Elisabeth of Belgium (with the king), Crown Princess Louise of Sweden (with crown prince), Queen Marie of Romania and Queen Elizabeth II of Earth. But by the year 2019 and by Wednesday morning, people held up well-produced banners with players’ familiar first names but with the same message as in: “Alex, We Won’t Stop Watching.”

A quintessence seemed to appear in a mother and daughter from New Jersey.

The mother, Mia Rodriguez, wore a Mia Hamm jersey, an homage to a star from the breakthrough 1999 U.S. women’s team. Her 10-year-old daughter, Julissa, wore an Alex Morgan and carried a sign that read, “Alex Morgan Are You Single Asking For My Dad.”

There they were, the generations. Mia Rodriguez idolized Hamm, played high school soccer in New Jersey and played against eventual U.S. mainstay and 2019 team member Carli Lloyd. “I played against her and didn’t know it,” Rodriguez said. “And we got our butts whipped.”

Now she feels her daughter’s world expanding. “Changed,” she said of the eras. “And it’s amazing. It’s better. Us women are kind of coming out on top here. It’s a big deal. It’s a different time. . . . Now, for her, it gets better and better. It gets easier and easier.”

Nearby stood an example of another vein of the moment, a woman wearing a white T-shirt with self-made lettering: “Equal Pay & ERA.” She turned out to be a journalist and the author of a book called “The Women Who Made New York.” While Julie Scelfo doesn’t consider herself a fervent soccer fan, she said, “I see that Megan Rapinoe and her teammates’ quest for fair treatment is part of a long struggle that human rights believers have been waging for centuries.”

The players went by, and the phones went up. Rapinoe did her famed post-goal pose. By noon, she had danced a daunting amount — on the float, on her way out to greet the crowd at City Hall during the introduction of players and repeatedly from her seat in front of that crowd.

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An audience that had secured tickets boomed when Mayor Bill de Blasio mentioned “Alyssa Naeher’s epic save in the semifinals.” It let fly the “Equal pay!” chant when the head of U.S. Soccer, Carlos Cordeiro, took the lectern. He had to wait to start and then, rather than with something momentous, he began: “Wow, New York City. You have outdone yourself again. What a parade.”

He rallied, in the crowd’s eyes, even as he mispronounced Rapinoe’s surname. Rapinoe and her teammates, three months before the World Cup began, sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination, citing wages and working conditions that are inferior to those of their male counterparts.

“We hear you, we believe in you, and we’re committed to doing right by you,” Cordeiro said. “ . . . We believe that all female athletes deserve fair and equitable pay. And together I believe that we can get this done. Because as this team has taught us, being great isn’t just how you play on the field, it’s about what you stand for off the field.”

Lloyd spoke. (“Twenty-two of the best, bestest friends,” she said of her teammates.) Morgan spoke. (“I think we have been known as America’s favorite soccer team. But from here on out we’ll just be known as ‘America’s Team.’”) Coach Jill Ellis spoke, thanking two Normandy vets and then the team. (“What a frickin’ ride.”)

Then Rapinoe spoke and led cheers for, among others, the team chef. She teased Cordeiro about “getting some stick” from the audience and said: “I’m going to stick my neck out here a little bit. I’m going to endorse Carlos. I think he’s with us. I think he’s on the right side of things. I think he’s going to make things right.” She went on about his perpetual presence in France. And: “We look forward to holding those feet to the fire.”

She directed marks to people in general and said: “Be more. Be better. Be bigger than what you’ve ever been before. If this team is any representation of what you can be when you do that, please take this as an example.”

Outside the gates and across the street, a large, lingering parade crowd without tickets to the City Hall event stood, looking on and maybe even hearing. Hovering above it in statue stood Benjamin Franklin, whose expression seemed untroubled.

Live parade highlights

By Scott Allen in Washington

Around 10:20 a.m. on Wednesday, the first float from the ticker-tape parade to celebrate the World Cup champion U.S. women’s national team arrived at New York’s City Hall. About 40 minutes later, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and first lady Chirlane McCray kicked off a ceremony to honor the U.S. women after their record fourth title.

“That was a moment of unity,” de Blasio said of the hour-long parade. “That was a moment where all the good in our city, all the good in our nation, you could feel it. This team brought us together. . . . On behalf of 8.6 million New Yorkers, what an honor to have this great team among us."

“Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts, who emceed the ceremony to honor the USWNT after its World Cup ticker-tape parade in 2015, filled the same role Wednesday. She introduced the U.S. team one by one, beginning with Coach Jill Ellis.

U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro then took the stage to more chants for equal pay.

Following Cordeiro’s remarks, each player received a key to the city and posed for a photo with de Blasio and McCray as Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York” blared over the loudspeakers. Rapinoe danced and struck the arms-outstretched pose she popularized while scoring six goals in France after Roberts called her name to receive the honor.

Fittingly, Rapinoe was the last to speak.

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Before ceding the microphone to de Blasio, Rapinoe had one final message for the assembled crowd: “New York City, you’re the mother f------ best!”

This year’s parade began just after 9:30 a.m. at the Battery and proceeded along Broadway. Rapinoe rode on the main float with de Blasio, who waved an American flag, and several teammates, including Julie Ertz, Ali Krieger and New York native Allie Long, who held the World Cup trophy.

There were chants of “Equal pay!” from players and the crowd, just as there were at Stade de Lyon in France after the Americans defeated the Netherlands on Sunday. U.S. defender Tierna Davidson held a sign that read, “Parades are cool. Equal pay is cooler!!”

Twelve floats transported players up the stretch of Broadway known as the “Canyon of Heroes.” The crowds along the 0.8 mile-long route were larger near City Hall, where the ceremony was held.

A limited number of tickets to the ceremony were claimed within seconds of being made available online Monday afternoon. Fans without tickets gathered outside the gates of City Hall Park to catch a glimpse of the champions after the parade.

Reuters reported that nearly a ton of shredded, recyclable paper was placed along the parade route. According to ABC 7 New York, 350 sanitation workers with 130 backpack blowers were assigned to clean up the mess.

Players and fans were showing their enthusiasm well before the scheduled 9:30 start time.

“NYC it’s parade time let’s do this!,” U.S. midfielder Kelley O’Hara tweeted. “Bonus points to anyone who brings me a beer or 4.”

Rapinoe arrived at Wednesday’s festivities with her own beverage in hand.

“I am sooo excited, because it’s beautiful out and I’m with my teammates, and we’re going to have so much fun,” U.S. forward Mallory Pugh said in a video posted on Twitter shortly after 8 a.m.

The weather was indeed beautiful, with temperatures between 78 and 84 degrees.

Before Wednesday’s parade, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) addressed reporters at the Battery.

“I think they are a model of possibility for women across the world with what they’ve accomplished,” Cuomo said of the U.S. team. “ . . . These 23 champions are banging on the glass ceiling that is still in existence in the United States of America. They’re going to keep banging until they break it.”

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Cuomo concluded his prepared remarks by signing an equal pay law.

“There is no rationale that the women should not get paid what the men get paid,” Cuomo said to cheers. “FIFA and the U.S. Soccer conference have done this team a disservice and an injustice . . . We say to the U.S. Soccer league and we say to FIFA, if you don’t pay women what you pay men, then you have no business in the state of New York.”

The victory lap for the U.S. women will span both coasts Wednesday. After the parade, players will fly to Los Angeles to attend the 27th edition of the ESPYs on Wednesday night. The awards show, which will be hosted by comedian Tracy Morgan, honors the past year’s top athletes and achievements. U.S. forward Alex Morgan, who tied for the World Cup lead with six goals in France, is among the nominees for Best Female Athlete. Morgan and her teammates appeared on “Good Morning America” on Tuesday.

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