The U.S. women’s national team defeated Portugal 4-0 in the second game of the team’s World Cup victory tour on Thursday, but what happened on the field wasn’t really the story.
Instead, it was the record-breaking crowd at Lincoln Financial Field that earned the headlines, as the USWNT continues to ride a wave of popularity stemming from its World Cup win last month.
On a weekday evening, 49,504 fans showed up to set the record for the largest attendance ever at a USWNT friendly.
“Holy cow that was awesome tonight in terms of the atmosphere,” USWNT head coach Jill Ellis said.
“You’re feeling the love from the fans and the excitement and the energy, so it’s a great feeling.”
The fans in Philadelphia were buzzing all night, creating a raucous atmosphere and breaking out into the now-familiar “equal pay” chants that have been aimed at Gianni Infantino and Carlos Cordeiro among others in the last two months.
It was hard to ignore the fact that the team’s record-setting night took place amid the backdrop of its ongoing lawsuit against U.S. Soccer for pay discrimination.
As the USWNT continues to argue they aren’t fairly paid compared to their male counterparts, having a night that was a major success on the field and for U.S. Soccer’s bank account certainly won’t harm their case.
“It just shows how much support we have and how many people are willing to buy tickets,” U.S. midfielder Sam Mewis said after the game.
“If fans like this are everywhere and continue to show support and spend money on tickets and jerseys and stuff like that, I think it’s just showing our value and that’s really great.”
After mediation talks between the players and U.S. Soccer broke down recently, USWNT attacker Carli Lloyd is hopeful that Thursday will be a small step toward bringing the federation back to the bargaining table.
“We’re seeing all the support around,” Lloyd said. “Collectively we’re all united as a group of players, we want to continue to pave the way, we want to continue to make things better for the next generation.
“Hopefully we can sit down with U.S. Soccer again and figure things out.”
Few players enjoyed Thursday night more than Lloyd. The 37-year-old, who grew up a short drive from Lincoln Financial Field in Delran, New Jersey, scored a goal in front of friends and family and then proceeded to flap her arms in tribute to her favorite football team, the Philadelphia Eagles.
“When I stepped on the field tonight I kind of thought it would be fitting to do it,” Lloyd said of her “Fly Eagles Fly” celebration.
“To be able to score in front of a home crowd, the Eagles stadium, friends and family, it was pretty cool.”
Though it was a largely meaningless friendly, Thursday night still felt like another important moment in an ongoing movement for the women’s game in the United States.
"I think it speaks volumes about our sport," Ellis said. "The World Cup was such a world showcase event that people get on board, and this is an exciting team with great personalities.
"Ultimately what does a fan want? Entertainment and I think that’s what they get with this group."
They also get a team that fights hard on and off the field, and one that knows it has plenty of support on both fronts.
“It just shows how many people are behind us and how many people really are supporting us with everything that we’re doing,” forward Mallory Pugh said. “It’s amazing.”