Thousands of cheering fans turned a section of downtown Los Angeles into a sea of red, white and blue Tuesday in celebrating the US victory in the Women`s World Cup.
Waving flags and chanting "U-S-A, U-S-A," spectators began arriving at 5 a.m. outside Staples Center arena to get a prime position at the front of the stage to cheer their beloved football heroes after their record third World Cup title and first in 16 years.
"Every day we call ourselves champions and it never gets old," Carli Lloyd, voted the Golden Ball as player of the tournament, told the crowd.
Lloyd scored three times as the United States roared to a four-goal lead in the first 16 minutes en route to a 5-2 demolition of Japan in Sunday`s final in Vancouver.
"I know 1999 was a huge turning point for women`s soccer," Lloyd said. "We have just crushed history. There is no greater time to win the World Cup."
Two days after taking the crown, the party was still going as the team flew to Los Angeles following their historic triumph. The next travel to New York for another rally and a tickertape parade down the "Canyon of Heroes."
Players took the stage in front of a crowd of about 4,000 just after 11 a.m. and they danced, sang, gave speeches and took photos.
Vendors sold souvenir shirts, shorts and hats, fans draped flags around their shoulders and wore red white and blue clothing while others held up signs that read "Long Live the Queens" and "Party Like It Is 1999."
Wendy Lopez was one of the first fans to arrive at 5:30 a.m. She left her Palm Springs home two hours earlier for the long drive and said there were about 15 people already there when she and her friends took up their position in the front row of the viewing area.
"I was praying we would win. I wanted them to come home with the trophy," Lopez said.
Anahi Lopez, 23, took time off from her bank job to attend the mid-day rally.
"This is a great victory because we haven`t won in 16 years," she said.
Defender Christie Rampone said it was nice to finally get a chance to see the excitement on the faces of the US fans close up after winning the title in Vancouver.
"You get a sense of it in Canada, but coming home like this is incredible," said Rampone. "It is finally starting to sink in."
Midfielder Megan Rapinoe, the only holdover from the 1999 Cup winners, said she could hear the crowd chanting from her hotel room.
"To be able to take your shirt off and celebrate with them in an informal way is incredible," she said. "We didn`t know how many people would be here and to have that many people show up is humbling."The only somber note of the festivities was when a tearful veteran midfielder Lauren Holiday said after the rally that she was retiring.
"This isn`t something that happened overnight," Holiday said. "I gave my all to the sport and to this team. I am so happy. These are not sad tears."
Holiday said she wants to start a family, but hopes to stay in the sport as a coach.
"Our goal is to grow the game and by winning the World Cup we are going to do that," said Holiday, who scored in the 14th minute of Sunday`s final.