Commentary: Colorado celebrates USWNT gold, sends off Pia with class
Commerce City, Colo. - If you were among the standing-room only crowd of 18,589 last night at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, please stand up and take a bow. Listen carefully and you can hear soccer fans from across the country applauding you.
The support the Colorado soccer community gave the U.S. Women's National Team and outgoing coach Pia Sundhage on Wednesday night is one that I'm sure will be talked about for years to come. And this is something for which any girl, boy, or adult that was in attendance should be proud of.
After winnnig their third straight Olympic gold medal this past summer in London, the U.S. WNT embarked on a Fan Tribute Tour to celebrate the victory with fans in the U.S. The match at Dick's Sporting Goods Park was announced in mid-August, two weeks before Sundhage announced that she would be moving on to coach her native Sweden National Team, and that the game in Commerce City would be her last with the U.S. team.
The game suddenly became more than just a tribute to the athletes that won the gold medal.
It became more than a 'thank you' to the fans that supported the team from a distance.
It became a send-off game for a woman who in five years would lead the U.S. to an astonishing 91-6-10 record, two Olympic gold medals, and a second place finish in the World Cup.
It also became a game in which the Colorado soccer fans would be representing an entire soccer nation.
Before tickets even went on sale to the public, they were most gone through presales for long-time supporters of the Colorado Rapids. The anticipation and excitement to see these world-class athletes grew by the day.
On matchday, fans began lining up to enter the stadium hours before the gates even opened.
Young girls competed with each other to see who could yell their favorite player's name louder, and who could do it with a higher pitch scream. Boys, too, wore U.S. jerseys with names of their favorite women's players. A group of young adults stood behind the south goal leading cheers throughout the 90 minutes.
When Heather O'Reilly's shot opened the scoring after 25 minutes, you couldn't hear the person next to you - other than their cheers and yelling. It was pandemonium.
And here's a moment that stood out to me. When Australia legend Sarah Walsh, whose goal put Australia up midway through the first half, was about to be replaced and come out of her final game, the crowd began standing and applauding her even before the public address announcer informed everyone that this was her last-ever game. That is respect, and class.
The fans cheered every goal as if it was the game-winner. They roared for every substitute, as much for the player coming off the field as for the one coming on.
And then came the postgame video tribute to Pia Sundhage. The players surrounded their beloved coach near midfield and directed their attention to the video board. It only took a few words on the board and music notes for Sundhage to become emotional. And many fans, too.
When the video ended, the standing crowd erupted in applaus to recognize a woman who helped the U.S. Women's team reach new levels. She wiped the tears and took a victory lap, waving and bowing to the Colorado crowd. The players grabbed the microphone and sang 'You are my Sunshine' as their coach hopped around the stadium.
It was a crowd that showed Pia not only how they felt about her and her team, but how the country felt about them. This was a crowd screaming and clapping for every U.S. fans that couldn't be there to provide their own voice.
And Pia knew it. She was waving goodbye to the Colorado crowd, knowing it was being felt by all the U.S. Women's National Team fans around the country.
Last week the players gave Pia an autographed guitar because of her love of music.
When she finished her lap, she grabbed the microphone one last time and tried to sing to her players, and the crowd. It was Tina Turner's 'Simply the Best.' Before her emotions took over again, she got these words out:
"You're simply the best. Better than all the rest. Better than anyone. Anyone I ever met."