HARRISON, N.J. — The U.S. women’s soccer team has spent the last few days getting the star treatment at some of New York’s most glamorous destinations.
On Friday, all 23 World Cup players were guests of honor on “Good Morning America” at the show’s Central Park concert stage. They then went to Twitter’s Manhattan office to meet a Super Bowl media day-style swarm of cameras and interviewers.
The night before, longtime sponsor Nike surprised the squad with an open-top bus ride across town that ended in Times Square. Thousands cheered as the landmark’s canyon of digital billboards lit up with players’ names and faces.
“I don’t think we’ve ever, in our lives, seen us on the big screens,” said right back Ali Krieger, who’s heading to her third World Cup.
Long Island-born left back Crystal Dunn felt the magnitude of the occasion in a place she’s visited often.
“Having so many people watching the screens and sharing that moment with us was really special,” she said.
Though Dunn is familiar with Times Square, she isn’t with the World Cup. This will be her first, after being the last woman cut four years ago. Another making her debut is Lindsey Horan, a playmaker whose Portland Thorns have their own rabid following. But, as the Times Square show proved, a World Cup is like nothing else.
“It was really cool what they did for us,” Horan said. “That was kind of like the first real feeling. … I think that’s great for women’s soccer in general.”
There’s also a game to play while in town, the Americans’ last before heading overseas. So they got back to work on Saturday morning at Red Bull Arena, which will host Sunday’s send-off contest against Mexico (noon, ESPN and Univision Deportes). The 25,000-seat venue is nearly sold out.
Don’t be surprised if U.S. coach Jill Ellis starts a lot of backups. This is her last chance to see how reserve players fit in roles they might be called upon to play in France. Keep an eye on forward Jessica McDonald, midfielder Morgan Brian, and goalkeepers Adrianna Franch and Ashlyn Harris, who didn’t play in the U.S.’ previous two games this month.
Another priority, of course, is to avoid injuries. Reaching a World Cup at full health is a feat in and of itself, and the Americans are 90 or so minutes of soccer away from achieving it.