For a moment, no one breathed. The Hall of Christ was filled to the brim with soccer fans on the edge of their seats, eyes glued to the projector screen. People squeezed their hands together, as if in prayer, and murmured comments of confidence to their team.
Midfielder Megan Rapinoe stood ready for the penalty kick, eyes on the goal. It was the 61st minute of the game — the final chance for the United States Women’s national soccer team to hold the world championship title for the second World Cup in a row, or for the Netherlands to take the title for themselves.
Every four years, soccer fans all over the world watch the most suspenseful match of the FIFA World Cup — the final. The tournament enraptures the world, exhibiting the strength and passion from each country. At 11 a.m. on Sunday, Chautauquans gathered in the lobby and sun room of the Athenaeum Hotel and the Hall of Christ to view the U.S. Women’s Team fight for the championship title.
The whistle blew, Rapinoe kicked and the ball flew straight into the right side of the goal. The U.S. Women’s Team scored the first goal of the game. And the fans went wild — standing, jumping and cheering, almost on the brink of joyful tears.
The game began as all soccer games must, with the national anthems of each team and then, the kick off. In the Hall of Christ, soccer fan, coach and referee Lito Gutierrez sat in an aisle seat so he could get an unobstructed view of the game. He didn’t look away from the screen, cheering in support of all the players as they sprinted down the field.
For Gutierrez, women’s soccer isn’t an afterthought. He spoke of his daughter and said women’s soccer is an important way for women to show strength.
“The fact is that now, all over the world, women’s soccer is coming through,” Gutierrez said. “And it’s coming through just gloriously.”
He said as a man who grew up with men’s soccer in Argentina, the women’s game is much stronger than the men’s.
“The women’s game is much cleaner and much more fluid than the men’s game,” Gutierrez said. “There’s very little drama; if they get hurt, they get up and move on.”
Half-time rolled around with no goals scored by either team. The Netherlands just missed a penalty kick, letting U.S. soccer fans everywhere breathe a sigh of relief. The fans in the viewing party in the Hall of Christ had to get up and stretch the stress out of their joints.
The game was intense as more shots on goal were taken, but the Netherlands’ goalie, Sari Van Veenendaa, was a force to reckon with for the U.S. Women’s Team. In the Athenaeum Hotel sun room, soccer fan Maggie Bauman dressed in the U.S. Women’s team jersey. For her and her family, watching soccer is a favorite pastime. She said it’s amazing to watch.
“I love seeing the work ethic that they all have in this team,” Bauman said. “They’re representing our country and they are also just working really hard for this — I think it would be awesome if they could pull out this win today.”
The second half quickly brought people to their feet as Rapinoe scored the first goal for the team. Soon after, midfielder Samantha Mewis sought out midfielder Rose Lavelle and passed the ball. Lavelle had nothing but space in front of her when she drove the ball straight into the goal.
The crowds in the viewing parties and on the screen cheered triumphantly. Gutierrez jumped in pure joy and put his hands in the air, clapping. He said the game was amazing and that each player communicates with others on the field, which is a product of good coaching.
“You have a player like Crystal Dunn who is playing from a defensive position — she’s all over the field,” Gutierrez said. “She’s up there playing with Rapinoe in the front area, and that’s superb.”
He said the communication on the field shows that the players are comfortable with each other, and that they have an incredible connection.
And there was a passion and connection among the people at the viewing parties. Whether or not fans knew each other, there was a relationship, based on each person’s passion for their team.
Marsha Opalk, who was watching in the Hall of Christ, has been coming to Chautauqua for many years. She said the viewing parties are something she hasn’t seen before at the Institution, and it was exciting to watch with other fans.
“This is just one great added feature for Chautauqua,” Opalk said. “I mean, look at all the people that were cheering and yelling — it was great.”
In the last minutes of the game, Netherlands ran tirelessly to score a goal, but the U.S. tightened up their defense. Even as both teams substituted key players, the U.S. didn’t budge — they were intent to win. Rapinoe ran off the field and was replaced by Christen Press; everyone cheered in the Hall of Christ and on screen, giving Rapinoe a standing ovation.
The final whistle sounded. The U.S. Women’s team won the World Cup title for the fourth time in its history. Each viewing party erupted with the sounds of cheers, excitement and whistles. In the stadium in France, American fans chanted “equal pay.”
The U.S. Women’s Team brings more revenue and wins more games than the U.S. Men’s Team, but the U.S. Women’s Team is paid much less than men in all areas. Particularly, in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the total prize money was $30 million, and champions walk away with $4 million. In the 2018 Men’s World Cup, champions won $38 million from a total of $400 million.
Sunday’s win was about more than a trophy; it was a showcase of strength and passion in women’s soccer.
“(The U.S. Women’s Team) played together very well — the passion is just incredible,” Gutierrez said. “I love it, I just love it.”