Atlanta crowd makes history, breaks attendance record for U.S. women's national team friendly


Little girls wearing star-shaped glasses carrying signs with the names of their heroes. Red, white and blue jerseys flooding MLK Jr. Drive. Music thumping from Centenniel Olympic Park where a block party boasts a large and raucous crowd more than ready to go on a picturesque Saturday morning.

Atlanta welcomed the United States women's national team on Saturday for the opening matches of SheBelieves Cup held at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta. And the atmosphere was one the city of Atlanta hasn't seen in a long time. It's been eight years since the U.S. women's national team played a match in the city of Atlanta, the last occurring in 2016 at the Georgia Dome.

The first-ever USWNT match played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium did not disappoint -- and it made history. The announced 50,644 in attendance was the largest crowd for a home friendly in the history of U.S. women's soccer.

"It was awesome," U.S. striker Sophia Smith said after the match. "The stadium, the environment, the fans were loud the whole entire game. Obviously, it's hard to go down but we felt like everyone was behind us and we needed that energy. We needed that motivation. It was a really fun environment to play in."

Those on hand saw a great match between two storied nations in women's soccer. Japan opened the scoring in the first 30 seconds of play, taking the kickoff and squeezing a shot past U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. The United States answered later in the 21st minute. Midfielder for the U.S. and Portland Thorns Sam Coffey set up the play after a tackle in the U.S.'s attacking half. Coffey found 19-year-old Jaedyn Shaw at the top of the box. Shaw put the ball on her right foot, then drove it left, placing a strike in the lower corner so fierce and perfect the Japan goalkeeper didn't even attempt a dive.

A penalty kick converted by United States captain Lindsey Horan in the 77th minute was the difference, and the Stars and Stripes won 2-1 to advance to the championship match of the SheBelieves Cup.

"I heard we've only had a bigger crowd maybe in the 1999 World Cup, which is just wild," veteran U.S. striker Alex Morgan said. "It's just a testament to the fans here in Atlanta. And the fact that this is our home base in the future, I think that [the fans] are excited for this and they showed up today."

The local crowd gave Mallory Swanson a special warm welcome. Saturday marked the midfielder's first appearance since tearing the patellar tendon in her knee during a friendly last year. Her injury took her out of joining the team in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Swanson started Saturday's match Atlanta and was subbed off in the 78th minute. While on the pitch, she nearly scored on a few occasions, including in the first half on a sliding shot at a tough angle that was saved at the goal line by a Japan defender.

Swanson earlier this week said she calls Atlanta one of her many homes. Her husband Dansby Swanson previously played for the Atlanta Braves.

Another player who received a warm welcome was midfielder Emily Sonnett, who entered the match as a substitute in the 63rd minute. Sonnett is a native of Marietta and attended Fellowship Christian School in Roswell.

"It was electric. It was awesome," Sonnett said. "Having one in my hometown break the record for a U.S. women's national team game is great. It's great for the sports community here and the support behind this women's national team."

Saturday's match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of Atlanta United, celebrated women and women in sport. The day featured women on hand for the in-stadium hosting, the pre-game show on TNT and a woman PA announcer to call out scoring and substitutions. Even the music played in the stadium prior to kickoff and at halftime focused on female artists and songs about women empowerment.

The win Saturday was the culmination of a week the United States women's national team spent in Atlanta, overlapping with Atlanta United's traditionally home venues. (Atlanta United is on the road Saturday to play New York City FC.) The USWNT has been training up the road in Marietta at the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground, Atlanta United's training complex, during the week.

The U.S. women's national team next heads to Columbus, Ohio where they'll face the winner of the second match of Saturday's doubleheader at Mercedes-Benz Stadium between Canada and Brazil. The final match of the SheBelieves Cup is scheduled for Tuesday, April 9.

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