Fans watching the Women’s World Cup semifinal at Rivalries in Portland cheer after Alyssa Naeher’s save on a penalty kick to maintain the lead for the U.S. on Tuesday afternoon. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Twelve-year-old Eliot Wertheimer of South Portland may have been among the smallest patrons gathered around the projector screen at Portland’s Rivalries Sports Pub and Grill, but he was among the U.S. women’s national team’s biggest fans.

As the final whistle sounded in Lyon, France, on the United States’ 2-1 victory over England in the semifinals of the Women’s World Cup on Tuesday afternoon, Wertheimer’s chanting echoed above the din of the crowd: “U.S.A! U.S.A!”

Eliot and his mother, Rachel, were among the fans who filled every table of the two-story sports bar on Cotton Street to support the team in its quest to become only the second team in Women’s World Cup history to claim back-to-back championships.

The U.S. will take on the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal between Sweden and the Netherlands in the championship game at 11 a.m. on Sunday. A victory would yield the fourth title in U.S. program history, following victories in 1991, 1999 and 2015.

Locals and out-of-staters gathered around TV screens throughout the Old Port as the United States grabbed an early lead Tuesday on a goal from forward Christen Press, before England’s Ellen White drew the game even in the 19th minute. Captain Alex Morgan gave the Americans the lead for good with header in the 31st minute.

In the second half, the U.S. suffered two major scares, the first coming in the 67th minute, when White apparently netted her second goal of the match, only to be ruled offside after a video review. In the 84th minute, the Brits were awarded a penalty kick following another video review.

But the crowd at Rivalries roared after U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher stopped Steph Houghton’s penalty kick to secure the victory.

“I think the team is pretty badass,” said New Jersey native Mike Pachaceo, who settled on Commercial Street Pub as his viewing destination during his vacation stopover in Portland. “It’s pretty cool to see a U.S. team that’s actually good. The (U.S.) men are good, not great, but the women are great.”

Fans at Ri Ra Irish Pub in Portland cheer a United States goal while watching Tuesday’s World Cup semifinal. Left to right are Marine Niewald of Washington, D.C., Christina Wallace of Washington D.C., and Sue Bator and Kim Lipman of Attleboro, Mass. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The large crowds of viewers have provided a welcome early summer boost to Old Port bars and restaurants.

“Right now, it’s a huge help,” said Rivalries’ owner Lance Meader. “We actually slow down this time of year so it’s a nice little bonus for us. Especially when (the tournament) gets into the later rounds, it’s just as good as any other (major game).”

Asked if he was a soccer fan himself, Meader said, “Right now I am.”

A few blocks away at Rí Rá Irish Pub and Restaurant on Commercial Street, fans clad in red, white and blue packed the bar’s two rooms from wall-to-wall.

“Where else would you watch soccer? I don’t really know of another place to go to watch soccer in Portland,” said Rebecca Lowe of Portland.

With the U.S. women well-established as an international soccer powerhouse – the team has now won 11-straight World Cup matches and four Olympic gold medals since in 1996 – longtime fans are finally noticing an uptick in public support.

Fans visiting Portland from London cheer for England’s goal in Tuesday’s World Cup semifinal while watching at Rivalries. The goal was called back and the U.S. went on to win. Left to right are Gemma Edgcombe, Cherie Edgcombe and Joshua Edgcombe. Joshua, originally from London, lives in Portland. Rod Michell and Matt Brown, on the right, are from Portland and were cheering for the U.S. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“I think it’s the first time that I’ve seen so many people rallying around it who are either not female or not normally soccer fans,” said Kim Lipman of Attleboro, Massachusetts, who took time out of her vacation to watch the game at Rí Rá.

“I think it’s great that they’re supported and that so many people come out to support women’s football,” said London-to-Portland transplant Joshua Edgcombe, one of the few spectators at Rivalries to sport England’s red jersey. “I’ve never seen England versus the USA (in America) before, but it’s all good fun.”

The game carried a special significance for Amy and Bert Pesavento of Herndon, Virginia, who watched at Rivalries with their two daughters, Elena, 14, and Lila, 11, both young soccer players.

“I think it’s great to see the U.S. women doing so well, not just this World Cup but in previous World Cups, too,” Amy said.

“It’s great for them to have role models to watch and not just always to have to watch the men’s team,” Bert said.

For their part, Lila and Elena just enjoyed the soccer.

“I think this game was (my favorite),” Lila said. “It was so exciting.”


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