Riding the Times Square rollercoaster

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NEW YORK — With an estimated 2,000 fans crowding the bleachers in anticipation for kickoff and U.S and Japanese media lined up pointing their lenses at them, it was “game time” outside the ABC studios in Times Square Sunday.

This was again the site of an espnW viewing party for Team USA’s quest for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011 Germany crown.

Just three weeks ago, the same area played host to thousands watching Team USA’s first Cup match against North Korea.

This time, Japan was the opponent.

Leading up to kickoff, fans prepared by practicing their soccer moves in the freestyle clinic, airbrushing the American flag, “USA” or a soccer ball onto their skins and testing how fast they can shoot at the penalty kick simulator.

Now, armed with cowbells, flags and vuvuzelas, fans chanted and cheered on Team USA as a live camera panned Times Square.

Fans watching the ABC SuperSign followed as ESPN’s Cup coverage jumped around the world, showing cheering crowds in Japan, San Diego — even soldiers watching at an Army base in Afghanistan.

Even after a scoreless first half, the fans’ support for the USA was overwhelming.

Chad Blankenship, Senior Director of Marketing for espnW and ESPNRise, was pleased with the turnout.

This party was an amazing accomplishment, since he and his team had less than four days to put this viewing party together.

Said Blankenship: “One of the unique challenges in producing the event was the extraordinarily short timeframe between our initial idea to stage it — following the epic USA vs Brazil match on [July 10] — and our final decision to move forward once the Women’s National Team advanced through the semis on Wednesday.

“Our success was heavily dependent on cooperation and collaboration with the City of New York, our event production company, ABC/GMA for the SuperSign, and numerous ESPN groups incl. Event Production partners in Bristol and on the ground in Germany.”

After halftime, the viewing party fans expanded from Military Island all over Times Square.

Left with a 1-1 tie at the end of the regular scheduled game time, suspense mounted.

The crowd erupted as Abby Wambach scored the second goal for the USA close to the end of the first 15 minutes in overtime.

Japan followed suit and tied the game — penalty kicks were next.

The crowed inched closer together and watched in awe as the Japanese team took the lead and sealed the deal in penalty kicks, 3-1.

Tears and disbelief marked the faces of US fans as the crowd dispersed quickly. Fans rooting for Japan’s victory danced in front of Japanese TV crews.

Then it was all over. Japan 2 (3) U.S. 2 (1).

Overnight television ratings indicate this was the most-watched soccer match on an ESPN channel.

The event set a “Tweets per second” record for Twitter.

The Cup final was thrilling no matter how your followed it.

What a game. What an atmosphere. What an outcome.

See more photos on espnW’s Facebook page.

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