With hundreds of cameras and phones taking pictures of the United States women's national soccer team's arrival at Finley Stadium on Tuesday afternoon, goalkeeper Hope Solo took pictures of the crowd.
The women held an open practice for about 90 minutes in front of 2,000 fans at Finley Stadium, in preparation for the team's match against Costa Rica at 6:30 this evening. The match will be televised on ESPN2.
Chattanooga is the second leg of the team's "Victory Tour" after winning the World Cup for the first time since 1999 this summer, and the local fans were lively Tuesday afternoon. Different cheers and chants broke out during the early portion of the training, so loud that at one point while being instructed on a drill, forward Amy Rodriguez yelled at a teammate, "I can't focus! They're so loud!"
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"Everybody I've run into has been incredibly kind, so it feels homey here," Solo said before Tuesday's practice. "There's been a great energy among the fans, and this is a very intimate stadium, so I think it's going to be really fun tomorrow night. This is time for us to celebrate; it's been an intense year with a lot of sacrifices and hard work put into winning the World Cup, and we did that, so it's time to celebrate. The tour is for us to say thank you for supporting us on what's been an incredible but very long journey, and we're happy to being back domestically to play in front of our fans."
The U.S. women defeated Costa Rica 8-0 on Sunday in front of 44,028 fans in Pittsburgh, which was the largest crowd ever to watch a soccer match at Heinz Field. Tonight's match has been sold out at Finley Stadium, which holds 20,668. Additional tickets were opened up by U.S. Soccer earlier this week, and attendance could reach 22,000.
"Chattanooga is a small town, and we want to be able to reach out and inspire," forward Abby Wambach said. "It's going to be a special night tomorrow night. We want to give people who may not feel the love all the time all the love tomorrow night.
"Do I think we're going to do well? Yes, I do. I think Jill (Ellis, head coach) is in a mindset that absolutely wants to look ahead, so even though it's a victory tour, she's going to make sure the team is firing on all cylinders, so come the Olympics next summer we still have the opportunity and the ability to win gold."
The rain that pounded Chattanooga for parts of Tuesday kept the team indoors. Midfielder Carly Lloyd, who had a hat trick 16 minutes into the World Cup final against Japan — a 5-2 win for the United States — said she really hadn't had the opportunity to check out the city but noted that the team was greeted by fans at the airport and echoed Solo's sentiment about the hospitality.
Although tonight will be looked at as a celebration for their accomplishment, the U.S. players don't plan to rest on their laurels with Olympic qualifying coming in February.
"For me, I'm still hungry for more," Lloyd said. "When you have a little bit of success, you want more and more each time. I don't think having fun for a game is in my realm. I think you can have fun and try different things, but a game's a game and I still want to win and I know the team wants to win.
"It's important to really enjoy this time. We know we're the top team in the world right now, but it could easily come back crashing down."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.