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At USWNT’s World Cup parade, ‘Equal pay!’ chants rain down with champions’ confetti

Tens of thousands of fans who lined the sidewalks of Manhattan’s Canyon of Heroes, and thousands more made their views clear during a ceremony outside City Hall.

Megan Rapinoe and her U.S. women's soccer team colleagues bask in a confetti shower at the end of the parade and celebration in their honor in New York.
Megan Rapinoe and her U.S. women's soccer team colleagues bask in a confetti shower at the end of the parade and celebration in their honor in New York.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

NEW YORK — The Lutz family of Audubon, Montgomery County, left home at 3:30 in the morning to get a prime place along Broadway for Wednesday’s championship parade for the U.S. women’s soccer team. Rowyn, 10, brought along her mother, aunt, and two sisters.

It was “not fun” waking up so early, Rowyn admitted. But, six hours after the family car hit the Pennsylvania Turnpike, she got what she came for. The stars she adores paraded right in front of her.

“It’s really cool to see them in a parade,” she said, standing on the sidewalk in a U.S. jersey, a stars-and-stripes plush top hat, and red-and-blue-beaded necklaces.

Rowyn was among tens of thousands of fans who lined the sidewalks of Manhattan’s Canyon of Heroes, where the U.S. women joined the New York Yankees as the only sports teams in back-to-back championship parades. An additional 3,400 fans held tickets for a ceremony outside City Hall.

This year’s crowd seemed a bit smaller than the one in 2015, when the Americans became the first women’s team to get this city’s trademark honor. It was no less boisterous, though, and a full measure of confetti fell from skyscrapers along the route. Ticker tape might be a thing of the past, but shredded paper isn’t yet.

There also was a political tone to the day, and it proved as theatrical as the parade.

The team’s gender-discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, and its demands on the world stage for equal pay for women soccer players, have strong backing from the fans. They came through loud and clear with signs, posters, and chants of “Equal pay!”

“Parades are nice, but equal pay is cooler!!” read a sign that a fan gave to goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher as she rode by.

New York mayor Bill De Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, led the charge from the podium.

“They showed us that to ‘play like a girl’ is to be unbeatable,” McCray said. "Our champions have shown us — and they are still showing us — how to stand together, fight harder, and win for equal rights, social justice, and equal pay.”

De Blasio, also a Democratic presidential candidate, added: “This team has shown an undeniable truth, an inalienable right: that the equality of women must be guaranteed in this nation. And let’s honor them by doing it.”

U.S. Soccer Federation president Carlos Cordeiro and soon-to-retire CEO Dan Flynn stood nearby on stage and applauded politely.

Cordeiro was serenaded with another round of “Equal pay!” chants. He didn’t address them at first.

“If I can paraphrase one of New York’s greats, I feel like one of the luckiest, luckiest people on earth,” Cordeiro said, in a nod to Yankees legend Lou Gehrig. “For the last few weeks I’ve been lucky to travel with, laugh with, cheer for, celebrate, and be inspired by 23 of the greatest athletes that the United States of America has ever produced."

Cordeiro encouraged fans to support their local National Women’s Soccer League teams. He slipped up by mispronouncing Megan Rapinoe’s last name when saluting her achievements in France.

Moments later, he turned to the subject at hand.

“To our women’s national team and the millions who support them: In recent months you have raised your voices for equality. Today, on behalf of all of us at U.S. Soccer, I want to say we hear you, we believe in you, and we’re committed to doing right by you,” Cordeiro said. “That is why, over the years, from our development programs to our youth national teams to our professional league, the NWSL, to our women’s national team, U.S. Soccer has invested more in women’s soccer than any country in the world.”

The crowd interrupted him, unsatisfied.

“We will continue to invest more in women’s soccer than any country in the world, and we will continue to encourage others, including our friends at FIFA, to do the same,” he continued, referring to world soccer’s governing body.

That still didn’t do it.

“We believe at U.S. Soccer that all female athletes deserve fair and equitable pay, and together I believe we can get this done,” he added.

That came close enough to quiet most of the critics.

“Because as this team has taught us, being the greatest isn’t just about how you play on the field, it’s about what you stand for off the field,” Cordeiro concluded. “It’s about who we are as a sport and a country.”

Rapinoe followed a few minutes later. As the crowd roared, she unexpectedly praised Cordeiro’s support of the women’s team.

“I’m going to stick my neck out there a little bit — I’m going to endorse Carlos,” she said. “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. He’s proven every day since he’s been in office for us that he’s with us.”

Cordeiro’s presence at the World Cup from start to finish resonated in the U.S. locker room.

“Not only from just a personal standpoint, how much that means to us, but just from an outlook standpoint, all the eyes looking in, this man was there,” Rapinoe said. “He was in the tunnel every single game, he was celebrating every single game. We appreciate that. Thank you.”

She also, with her trademark flair, turned the screw just a little bit.

“I know that you [took some hits] when you were up here. A couple chants. I think that’s a sign of affection, though, right? Everybody in a position of power gets booed,” she said, and later concluded: “We look forward to holding those feet to the fire.”