U.S. World Cup team finds plenty of support in Canada

U.S. team has lots of support in Canada for World Cup game against Nigeria

The Stars and Stripes were everywhere Tuesday at BC Place, hanging from railings and over shoulders, worn on hats, pants, T-shirts and painted on faces. There was even a version of the flag made entirely out of balloons.

"We're playing home games in Canada," Abby Wambach said.

The overwhelmingly pro-U.S. crowd of 52,193 was less than 2,000 short of the stadium's listed capacity, marking the first of three games in the World Cup that the Americans haven't sold out. But it nearly matched what Canada drew in the tournament opener in Edmonton.

And the home team played its next two games in front of more than 32,000 empty seats combined.

"The crowd was amazing. I think that had a big part to do with our energy," Coach Jill Ellis said, repeating a comment she has made throughout the tournament.

Tuesday's crowd did get a bit of a boost from a Canadian, though. U.S. forward Sydney Leroux, who was born and raised just outside Vancouver, said that about 50 family members and childhood friends were expected to attend the game, Leroux's first at home in a U.S. uniform since the 2012 Olympic qualifying tournament.

Leroux's friends and family had to wait a while to see her play, though, since Alex Morgan got her first start of the World Cup, relegating Leroux to the bench. She went on in the 66th minute and played energetically.

"I love Vancouver more than any city in the world," said Leroux, 25, who left Canada at 15, shortly after playing for her homeland in the U-19 World Cup. "People have come up to me while walking the streets of Vancouver … even Canadian fans are like 'Congratulations. We're proud of you. We're rooting for you.'

"It's been really cool."

Lessons learned

Wunderkind Asisat Oshoala, who had Nigeria's best scoring chance midway through the first half, said she was inspired to play soccer in part by watching U.S. players such as Wambach and Hope Solo play on TV.

"I'm always like 'mommy I want to be like this person,' " she said. "So playing against them, I think it's very good for me."

Oshoala said her mother called this week to remind her of her childhood dreams and to challenge her to show the U.S. players what they taught her. And she almost got to meet Solo in the 24th minute when she got behind the U.S. defense, leaving only the keeper to beat. But as Oshoala lined her shot, U.S. defender Julie Johnston slid it from behind and tapped the ball away.

"I always talked about them and my mother said to me 'now you want to play against them. You need to prove yourself and tell us, literally your parents, that you can be like them in the nearest future,' " Oshoala said.

Shake it off

Ellis was waved off when she approached Nigerian Coach Edwin Okon for a handshake after the game.

"I typically always go and shake the coach's hand. The bench personnel shook my hand and the coach said, 'I'm not going to shake your hand,' " Ellis said. "He kind of put his hand out a little bit. But that's his call, not mine."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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