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Exclusive: At parade, veteran Team USA player tells PIX11 what’s needed for women’s pro sports success

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LOWER MANHATTAN -- For the thousands upon thousands of fans who went to the ticker tape parade for World Cup champions Team USA on Friday, it was a massive, up-close celebration, with the life of the party being the women being honored.

Some of team members spoke with PIX11 News on the parade route, and one of them, who's among the most experienced, world class players, said that in order for women's sports to succeed, there needs to be a lot more of the sort of support that was so strongly on display on Friday.

The crowds started building around 8:00 A.M. for the 11:00 parade, and while there were fans from around the world, there was a theme among many spectators.  From Kearny to Parsippany to Newark to Union, a majority of the fans that PIX11 News encountered along the parade route were from New Jersey.

With four of the 23 team members from the Garden State, its residents showed their loyalty with enthusiasm all along the parade route on Broadway in Lower Manhattan.  Everybody else was also cheering and shouting with high volume and exuberance, showing that, even among foreign tourists whose countries lost the World Cup, for a few short hours on one day, everybody was from the same place.

"USA! USA! USA!" went the chants, over and over, as fans marveled at how close they were able to get to the world champion team.  "Amazing!" exclaimed Karuna Katariwala, a fan from Colonia, New Jersey.  "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity," she said. "It was out of this world, it was surreal, I loved it."

She made that assessment after seeing only the first float of players, who were accompanied on their moving platform by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

On the third team float was Mayor Bill de Blasio, but he, along with all of the officials in attendance, were eclipsed by the women of the moment, Team USA. Their coach, Jill Ellis, held up the actual World Cup trophy, which she guided the team to winning, despite many critics and doubters of her abilities.

After Team USA's 5-2 victory over Japan in the World Cup final last Sunday, the doubters were as silent as the crowd at the parade was loud.  "It's surreal," Ellis told PIX11 News, trophy in hand, about the ticker tape welcome she and the team she had trained received in New York. "I've never seen anything like this in my life," she added.

The fans had never seen anything like it, either.  "I was so nervous," said a girl from Massapequa, Long Island, "because they're right there."

A teenager from Peapack, New Jersey, elaborated.  "You see them on TV," he said, "and then see them in person, and know how amazing they are."

Another remarkable sight took place as the second players' float passed in front of St. Paul's Chapel, a few blocks before the parade route's end.  About a half dozen players, led in part by New Jersey's own Tobin Heath, successfully shushed the crowd momentarily, and then led them in a cheer, that drove the fans wild.

"I believe that we just won!" the crowd repeated again and again, as the players bounced up and down on their float.

Indeed, they had just won, for the third time in the 24-year history of women's World Cup, and the throng of thousands upon thousands of supporters showed how proud they are of Team USA's accomplishments.

Four-time World Cup contender Shannon Boxx told PIX11 News, in order to keep women's professional sports thriving, some of the same sort of support that was shown to her and her teammates on Friday needs to migrate to professional women's sports stadiums.

"We know we've got to keep this going a long time," said midfielder Shannon Boxx. She thanked the fans repeatedly, but also said that continued support is key to women's professional sports thriving.

A possible added incentive came from Zurich, Switzerland on Friday, around the same time as the parade. FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, released its new rankings of teams worldwide.  Japan, which had beaten the U.S. in the 2011 World Cup final, had been ranked Number 1, with Team USA in second.  On Friday, that order was flipped by FIFA, and now the World Cup champions are also officially the world's top ranked team.