After the referee pointed to the spot, signaling an opportunity for a penalty kick, Elbert Esguerra stood. He wasn’t in France for the championship game of the Women’s World Cup between the U.S. National Team and the Netherlands. No, he was at the Gallivan Center in downtown Salt Lake City surrounded by a few hundred fellow fans.
Esguerra turned to the crowd and began waving both arms toward the sky, imploring them to stand.
“I wanted to get people really hyped up because this was going to break the tie that we had going,” Esguerra said. “I knew that this was the turning point. … This is what’s going to help the U.S. break through with this game.”
One by one, the crowd stood. They cheered. They knew what the moment meant if Megan Rapinoe could break a scoreless tie in the 61st minute. And she did. The Utah crowed erupted. Some waved miniature American flags. Beach balls colored red, white and blue bounced from outstretched hand to outstretched hand. It was the moment these Utahns and so many across the country had been waiting for after a nervy first hour of game play.
The USWNT beat the Netherlands 2-0 to win its second consecutive World Cup, and fourth overall — more than any other country in the history of the tournament. A crowd of more than 300 gathered at the Gallivan Center to enjoy it all. They clapped, gasped, oohed and ahed with every goal-scoring opportunity, every foul call. They groaned when defender and Utah Royals FC player Kelly O’Hara knocked heads with a Dutch player, and again when Becky Sauerbrunn, also of the Royals, had head-to-head contact and came down bleeding.
And they erupted in elation again when Rose Lavelle scored the team’s second goal on a breakaway in the 69th minute. Someone in the crowd started chanting “USA, USA,” and soon everyone joined in. More beach balls flew.
After the final whistle, most of the crowd dispersed. But some stayed to watch the trophy ceremonies. Lindsay Hirst leaned against a tree as she watched the entire team was presented the trophy.
“I get so emotional over this because as a woman, it’s so cool to see such powerful women being celebrated and supported,” said Hirst, who wore a Royals jersey and is a season ticket holder. “So for me to sit and watch them represent our country and set such strong women examples for me is absolutely amazing.”
Before Rapinoe broke the scoreless standoff, the crowd was on edge. Kemal Zuzo said he felt the officiating was poor, and that the physicality the Netherlands showed toward the U.S. gave him pause.
“I was worried because we were playing good but the finishing wasn’t there still and they [the Netherlands] were beating us physically,” Zuzo said.
Lisa Lawton was also worried. In the moments before Rapinoe made her strike, Lawton said she put both her hands over her mouth in anticipation.
“My hands were actually shaking,” said Lawton, who is also a fan of Real Salt Lake, the Royals and the Real Monarchs. “I know it’s soccer, but it’s soccer.”