NEWARK, N.J. – When the 1991 U.S. women’s soccer team arrived home from China after winning FIFA’s first global women’s soccer championship – it wasn’t yet called the World Cup back then – the moment was barely noticed. Their welcoming party had just a handful of reporters and U.S. Soccer Federation dignitaries.
Of course, 28 years is a long time. But it still mattered that when the charter flight carrying this year’s team landed, it was met at Newark Liberty International Airport by more than two dozen cameras and a water cannon salute.
Julie Ertz carried the trophy down the steps to a red carpet whose VIP guests included New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, his wife, Tammy, and their family. They exchanged pleasantries with the players and coaches, and posed for photos with Carli Lloyd and U.S. Soccer Federation president Carlos Cordeiro.
The governor co-owns the NWSL team Sky Blue FC and has been criticized for years for chronic underinvestment in it. At the start of this year, his wife took a public role in the team’s operations.
None of the Murphys spoke to the media before leaving as the team’s buses got a police escort to Manhattan. The governor did speak at a separate event Monday and said the U.S. women should get the equal pay with men they’ve been asking for.
The contrast between Murphy’s claim and the reality of his soccer team – its home stadium at Rutgers doesn’t have showers in the locker rooms – was not lost on women’s soccer fans in New Jersey and nationwide. While Murphy was shaking hands with the World Cup stars, fans were lampooning him on social media.
The players saved their remarks until they arrived at their hotel, but they spent time on the tarmac to ham it up for the cameras and sing along to “We Are The Champions.”
There weren’t any fans on the heavily secured scene, and the hotel had plenty of barricades too. But for the players, echoes were still fresh of the tens of thousands of Americans who flocked to France – especially the “Equal pay!” chants aimed at FIFA president Gianni Infantino during the trophy ceremony after the final.
“They’re with us wanting more,” star winger and vocal leader Megan Rapinoe told reporters. “It was pretty special to have that transcendent moment outside of sport, outside of soccer, outside of anything. It’s so much bigger than just what’s happening on the field, and the fans were right there in lockstep with us.”
Rapinoe and her colleagues didn’t spend much time talking. They’d had a long day of travel after partying late into Sunday night. And there was proof from players’ Instagram feeds that a few drinks were consumed on the plane, too.
Count them as well-earned spoils for winning a fourth World Cup.
“Initially everyone was excited, and then a little hungover, and then we slept a little bit, and then we got up and started just celebrating a little more," forward Alex Morgan said.
The most prolific videographer, goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, had a walking boot on her right ankle for reasons that were not known. Her club team, the Orlando Pride, will surely be interested ahead of her return there next weekend.
For now, it was time to rest and recover before a ticker-tape parade Wednesday morning in New York.