New Jersey Pride Shines Through in U.S. Women’s World Cup Victory

Wall Street Journal
By Heather Haddon
July 7, 2015

New Jersey residents don’t always wear their pride on their sleeves, but they weren’t feeling shy Monday after the U.S. women’s soccer team won the Women’s World Cup for the first time in 16 years.

Four of the 23 national team members have New Jersey ties, and they scored four of the team’s five goals in the 5-2 victory over Japan on Sunday.

Three of the goals were scored by Carli Lloyd, a former player for the Rutgers University Scarlet Knights and a native of Delran.

“To have someone like Carli come out of here and achieve what she achieved instills a sense of pride in Delran,” said Daniel Finkle, principal of Delran High School.

The pride stretched across the state, a reflection of how pervasive youth soccer has become in New Jersey. The state has some of the best club teams in the nation, and thousands of young people play in traveling leagues.

“New Jersey has always been a hotbed of soccer,” said Mike O’Neill, Rutgers head women’s soccer coach who recruited Ms. Lloyd to play for the Scarlet Knights in the early 2000s.

Midfielder Tobin Heath, another goal scorer in Sunday’s final, is from Basking Ridge. Defender Christie Rampone, who has represented the U.S. in five Women’s World Cups, is from the Jersey Shore town of Point Pleasant. Heather O’Reilly started her career as a midfielder in East Brunswick.

“No one works harder, plays smarter or knows how to step up in a pressure situation” than New Jersey players, said Joshua Henne, a Democratic strategist who grew up playing soccer with Ms. O’Reilly’s brothers.

The World Cup finale broke viewership records for a soccer match in the U.S., and New Jersey fans flocked to sports bars to watch it.

“I was excited, elated,” said Stephen Reid, a lobbyist from Point Pleasant who knew Ms. Rampone’s relatives, who watched the game at a viewing party with about 20 others.

Members of Ms. Lloyd’s family watched the game at Ott’s bar in Delran, which drew about 300 to cheer her on.

“It was a big event for the town,” said Craig Bigley, the bar’s manager. “The Delran pride was in full force.”

Four of the team’s goals were scored in the first 16 minutes of the game, and Ms. Lloyd earned a hat trick with her three goals. Anson Dorrance, Ms. Heath’s soccer coach while she attended the University of North Carolina, said the New Jersey players stood out.

“I thought the New Jersey kids were absolutely spectacular,” said Mr. Dorrance, who is in his 37th season as the soccer coach at UNC and has won 22 national titles.

Ms. Lloyd, speaking about the team’s win on national TV morning shows, gave much of the credit to her teammates. “It was just an epic win and we created history,” Ms. Lloyd said Monday on “CBS This Morning.”

Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican presidential candidate who took to Twitter Sunday to express support for the team, also expressed his joy on air Monday. He was introduced on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” as “our new soccer correspondent.”

“It’s a good day for New Jersey,” Mr. Christie said on CBS.

Across the Hudson River, New York City congratulated the team and is “exploring logistics” of a ticker-tape parade to honor the women, according to Karen Hinton, press secretary to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Many of the women retain a hometown presence. Ms. Rampone runs a soccer clinic in the shore area and is the celebrity endorser for Jersey Mike’s Subs, a sandwich chain.

Ms. Lloyd returns to Rutgers and her old high school about once a year to speak to students. When a young soccer player lost her leg after complications stemming from surgery, Ms. Lloyd helped raise funds for her.

John Hughes, an official with Jersey Mike’s who knows Ms. Rampone’s family, said his daughter was inspired to keep up her own budding soccer career as a high-school player.

“I’ve got big time Jersey pride,” Mr. Hughes said.