LOS ANGELES - Carli Lloyd looked out over the cheering mob of U.S. women's national team fans and raised an arm in triumph.
"It feels great to wake up as a world champion, and that feeling won't ever get old," Lloyd said.
The home celebrations got underway for the World Cup winners on Tuesday. The Americans were welcomed to downtown Los Angeles by an estimated crowd of 10,000 cheering fans at a rally in the first stop on a victory tour.
The first stateside appearance was a raucous party in front of fans who began camping out before dawn on short notice. Abby Wambach joyously lifted the World Cup trophy while the players led the crowd in chants of "I Believe That We Just Won!"
Lloyd's hat trick in the final propelled the U.S. women to their record third World Cup title, routing Japan 5-2 on Sunday in Vancouver. The Americans hadn't won soccer's biggest prize since 1999, but Lloyd believes this team has done something comparably groundbreaking.
"I know in '99 it was a huge turning point for women's soccer, (but) I think we have just crushed history right now," said Lloyd, who scored six goals in the tournament. "With the amount of coverage, with social media, with everything else that's been going on, I think there was no greater time to win a World Cup than now. ... It's an unbelievable moment. It's something that's going to last for years."
The Los Angeles crowd was packed with boys and girls introduced to soccer by the tournament. Hundreds wore their favorite players' shirts, while signs in the crowd included "Party Like It's '99," ''Long Live the Queens," and "Equal Pay 4 (Female) Athletes."
The team spent the night downtown before the rally, but could hear fans chanting down the street when they awoke. Even after everything they accomplished in the previous six weeks, the excitement still stunned them.
"We didn't know how many people were going to show up," Megan Rapinoe said. "We didn't have this just a few years ago. We've earned it, and we're proud of it. The atmosphere was just so much fun. It was a great party, and I like to enjoy myself."
While defender Meghan Klingenberg filmed her team with a GoPro camera, Rapinoe took the microphone to introduce her teammates with various anecdotes, nicknames and embarrassing details. The fans roared for every player, but gave particularly loud cheers when Hope Solo addressed them.
"It is so good to be back home!" yelled Solo, the goalie who yielded just three goals in the entire tournament. "You guys have been the most awesome of fans throughout the entire time. I'm honored to be an American, I'm honored to play for this team and this country!"
The players also led a sing-along to Queen's "We Are the Champions" before leaving the stage. Most of the women were headed home later Tuesday before reconvening in New York on Friday for a ticker-tape parade in the Canyon of Heroes and a ceremony with Mayor Bill DeBlasio.
Lloyd was already thinking further ahead, telling the crowd that "we're going to have to bring it home in four years' time."
Lauren Holiday also was thinking about her future after scoring a goal in the World Cup final. The 27-year-old midfielder became emotional after the rally when she revealed she plans to retire from the U.S. national team after 10 years, seeing the World Cup as a perfect spot to leave.
The women share the hope that their victory will provide a lasting boost for women's soccer stateside. NWSL teams have already seen an upsurge in ticket sales, but Rapinoe and Lloyd are cautiously confident that the boost is sustainable.
''The tough thing is the World Cup is every four years," Lloyd said. "It's not like a World Series or the Stanley Cup playoffs where it's every year, but we do have the Olympics the following year, which is great. I think people will stick around. I think people will watch."