Brenda Khothsombath sat glued to her seat near the bar, still staring at the TV screens after the U.S. team won the Women's World Cup and soccer fans jubilantly spilled out onto Nicollet Mall on Sunday afternoon.
"I feel awesome — I'm kind of emotional still," Khothsombath said as she zipped up a hooded onesie covered in stars and stripes. "It just shows how far women can go."
Dozens of fans at the Rojo Mexican Grill in downtown Minneapolis cheered on the women's team Sunday as it won its record fourth World Cup title. Many were dressed like July 4th holdovers and waving little American flags. The crowd was a mix of hard-core fans and those who jumped on the women's soccer bandwagon just recently as the team's success gained national attention.
As they tracked the tiny players across the screen, fans said many factors played into their desire to watch the big game, which ended with the U.S. beating the Netherlands 2-0.
Lisa Mosier said it was the first soccer game she had ever watched — and she was impressed. "It's way more engaging than I thought it would be," she said. "The only sport I normally like watching is basketball because it's fast-moving, and this is the same." Her daughter, Claire Mosier of Minneapolis, said she's been a women's soccer fan since 2015. "I went to Winnipeg four years ago — I'm into it," she said. "We're just fans of women's sports, mostly."
She drew parallels between the pay disparity issue in women's soccer and Ultimate Frisbee, the sport she plays.
As her sport grows in popularity, she and others want to ensure women aren't short-shrifted as their soccer-playing peers have been, she said.
Female soccer players have recently drawn attention to the longstanding pay gap between men's and women's professional soccer teams and demanded equal compensation from FIFA, the sport's governing body.
Blocks away at Target Field Station, several young fans said they like watching the women play more than the men, at least right now.
Isaac Sanders, 12, watched on a giant TV screen as the Americans scored their second goal. "[The women] can compete against anyone. The men can't," he said.
"The women play a lot faster, I feel like," said Owen Hutto, 12, as he sat with fellow soccer players. "The best thing about watching the women is they're very successful, too."
It's always fun to watch a winning team, fans agreed Sunday.
But many enthusiasts said that women's soccer has turned a corner in the United States, garnering enthusiasm that will likely sustain itself even when the team isn't winning championships.
Lauren Fleming credited social media with helping the women's team become more well-known. Fans enthusiastically follow women's soccer players on Twitter, she said.
Bao Diep, who was born in Vietnam, said soccer is an important sport for many immigrants because of its worldwide prominence.
"I think Minnesota's become more accepting of soccer in general because of our immigrant population," Diep said.
Connor Twomey, a bartender at the Mexican restaurant, said that when U.S. women's soccer player Megan Rapinoe said she wouldn't be visiting the White House if the U.S. team won the World Cup, it only created more publicity for the team.
"By kind of standing up to [President Trump], more people wanted to back her and the team," Twomey said.
Maggie Joyce of Minneapolis noted that the women's team has excelled for a decade, adding that the players' hard work is now paying off. As a female athlete, she said, it's gratifying to watch.
"You're literally seeing the fruits of, like, Mia Hamm's labor," she said, referring to the retired soccer star. "It's an absolute joy to watch a team that has so much passion for the game."
Joyce said she can't picture a future scenario when the U.S. women's team isn't popular.
"The ratings speak for themselves," added her friend Samuel Naden.
Erin Adler • 612-673-1781