This story was reported by Laura Albanese, Nicole Brown, Matthew Chayes, Li Yakira Cohen, Allegra Hobbs and Ivan Pereira. It was written by Chayes.
New York City got a kick out of America's world champion women's soccer team Wednesday.
Fans in the tens of thousands lined Broadway in lower Manhattan for a ticker-tape parade honoring the team's fourth Women's World Cup victory— a celebration that climaxed with the mayor awarding the 23 players and three coaches keys to the city.
Following a New York tradition that's feted aviator Charles Lindbergh, Apollo astronauts, triumphant Olympians, World Series champions, victorious soldiers and other honorees, the parade route from Battery Park to City Hall traced through the Canyon of Heroes.
The parade came three days after the team's 2-0 win Sunday over the Netherlands in the World Cup final.
“I just love how they play the game. It’s very dynamic, it’s very — it’s just, they play almost like the men play, and it really sells to everybody, and what they’ve done for the sport, what they’ve done for women’s soccer, is a big thing," said parade spectator Jake Moore, 30, of West Hempstead, a swim instructor, who took the 5:55 a.m. Long Beach branch train in.
Mia Sansanelli, 18, came to the parade from Huntington with her mom, Heather. As she prepares to play collegiate soccer in the fall, Sansanelli said she couldn’t miss an opportunity to see her favorite players, Kelly O’Hara and Megan Rapinoe.
"Their athleticism and skill are really inspiring," she said. "I’m a defender myself, and O’Hara has always been such an incredible role model for me. I love watching her."
Interrupting a Long Island vacation, Barbara Tantum, 50, of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, brought her two teenage daughters and niece to the parade.
The family had gone to see the victory parade through the streets of Philadelphia when the Eagles won the Super Bowl, and Tantum wanted to show that a women’s victory was just as important.
"We went to that parade and I thought, here’s a group of women winning the world championship, and I thought it was just as important to bring the girls to this parade," she said.
The three girls play soccer themselves and said they were thrilled to see their heroes in person.
The best part, said Sam Hollish, 15, a goalkeeper, is "just seeing them, seeing them celebrate and have a good time, because they deserve it."
Jennifer O'Sullivan, 45, of Westchester, and her sons, Devin, 6, and Daniel, 8, woke up before sunrise to head to the city for the parade.
"That was the fourth time the women won the World Cup,” Daniel said.
“Is that a big deal?” the mom, a sports lawyer, asked him.
“Yeah, cuz it’s the record,” said Daniel, himself a soccer player who normally plays defense.
After Daniel watched the World Cup, he said, he went to the backyard of their Pelham home — and played soccer.
"To see young boys and girls who are getting behind it means we’re sort of, as a generation, kind of, taking a turn for the better and having more and more support for women sports,” his mom said.
At City Hall, Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, first lady Chirlane McCray, led the crowd in chants of "equal pay."
The men's and women's teams have different collective-bargaining agreements that help dictate how and how much they are paid.
Globally, the men’s game outstrips the women’s game in terms of revenue and this is reflected in the total bonus money. Pooled bonus money for the men’s World Cup was $400 million, while the total for the women was $30 million.
Fans held up signs seeking equal pay for the players — an issue that came to a head when the women’s team sued the U.S. soccer federation for sex discrimination. The team argued that the federation paid them less and gave them less support than the men's game. The women's team has won two straight World Cups, while the men's team failed to qualify for the last World Cup.
The fans shouted "pay them" at U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro.
"In recent months you have raised your voices in equality," Cordeiro said. "We are here to say we hear you, we are committed to you. We will continue to invest more in women's soccer … and encourage our friends at FIFA to do more."
Just before the parade, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation mandating that an employer pay men and women equally for work the state considers comparable, even if the employer argues that the job is technically different. He also signed legislation barring employers from asking about an applicant's salary history.
“You can’t take a past injustice and use it to justify a present injustice," Cuomo said.
Rapinoe danced her way through the City Hall doors and onto the dais.
"This is my charge to everyone. We need to be better. We need to love more and hate less," Rapinoe told the assembled crowd. "It's our responsibility to make this world a better place."
The co-captain also appeared to reference the recent controversy over her refusal to visit the White House as a World Cup champion, which drew the ire of President Donald Trump.
"There is so much contention in the last few years," Rapinoe said. "I've been a victim of that. I've been a perpetrator of that."