MILWAUKEE (AP) — There was beer spraying in the air after a shot ripped into the back of the net, a wide variety of R-rated chants during nervous moments in the match and even a guy wearing a Captain America superhero suit.

Beyond having a few more female fans at the bar than usual for Sunday’s Women’s World Cup final, the capacity crowd at Milwaukee’s soccer-centric Highbury Pub looked and acted about the same as it does during U.S. men’s games. The scene was repeated across the country, as people who hadn’t heard of Abby Wambach a week ago joined hardcore supporters with fond memories of 1999 in bars, restaurants and living rooms.

Oh yes, they toasted goals — over and over and over. They slapped their foreheads after squandered scoring chances. And when the U.S. lost to Japan on penalty kicks, it stung every bit as badly as it did when the men’s team was eliminated by Ghana in last year’s World Cup in South Africa. At least one fan walked out of the bar wiping away tears.

Highbury patron Shannon Stinson has family members from Japan, and hoped the Japanese team’s victory might lift a few spirits in a country that continues to recover from a devastating earthquake. Still, she had a hard time putting her disappointment into words.

“I’m at a loss,” Stinson said, pausing several seconds to think. “It’s all right. It’s good. I think it’s done a good job of rallying the crowd to women’s football, and football in general.”

The U.S. team lost in gut-wrenching fashion. They gave up the lead in regulation, gave up the lead in extra time and then were uncharacteristically off the mark during the shootout — a remarkable change from their stirring rally to beat Brazil, a victory that captured the attention of casual fans across the country.

Fans were watching just about everywhere, from New York’s Times Square to Major League Baseball clubhouses.

After beating the Kansas City Royals on Sunday, a handful of Minnesota Twins players hung around to watch the dramatic finish. Shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka watched in another room, a bet with manager Ron Gardenhire hanging in the balance.

If the Americans won, Gardenhire was going to make Nishioka wear a t-shirt that read, “I love American women.” If the Japanese won, Gardenhire was going to have to wear a shirt of Nishioka’s choosing.

“I wish I could trash talk in Japanese because he would hear all of it,” Gardenhire cracked before the game.

Nishioka had the last laugh, coming back in the clubhouse to playfully taunt his teammates.

Others were left with a mix of disappointment and pride — including at the University of Portland, which held a watch party to cheer on former Pilots players Megan Rapinoe and Stephanie Cox.

“Even though they lost, I’m so proud of the United States, and I’m so proud of Megan and Stephanie,” said Portland player Danielle Foxhoven.

The sudden rush of support for the women’s team was heartening to Robyn Vinje, a part-time bartender at the Highbury who came in on her day off to watch the match, decked out in a star-spangled headband.

“Leading up to this, there’s a couple of blogs that I follow, and I read a few pieces about why is there no coverage about the women, this is important, why isn’t anyone paying attention to this?,” Vinje said. “And so all of a sudden, for the final to be here, I see all these people who I didn’t think would care, do care.”

For Vinje, the buzz surrounding the women’s team brought up cherished memories of the U.S.’s 1999 World Cup victory.

“Well, ’99 changed my life,” Vinje said. “I was a 13-year-old sitting in my friend’s basement, holding each other during penalty kicks. That’s an indelible memory I will never forget. So to revisit this, and see the support it’s getting, that’s awesome. I wish it was like this every four years.”

One thing became clear at the Highbury on Sunday: Some of the women’s team’s support from male soccer fans was at least partly based on their looks; a few in the crowd spontaneously yelled “I love you!” to images of goalkeeper Hope Solo and forward Alex Morgan when they appeared on television.

But Stinson said the majority of male fans she talked to respected the women’s team primarily for its play. The Highbury crowd hooted “Pinoe!” almost every time Rapinoe touched the ball, a respectful salute to her skill.

“Granted, how cute are the girls?,” Stinson said. “But these guys, they appreciate the sport, if it’s men or women or whatever.”

Among the crowd at Highbury on Sunday was veteran soccer executive Peter Wilt, the former president and CEO of the Chicago Red Stars women’s team. The Red Stars, once a franchise in Women’s Professional Soccer, now play in a lower-profile women’s league.

Wilt doesn’t expect a boom in soccer’s popularity after this year’s World Cup, but said the buzz over Sunday’s game is yet another sign that the sport is making its way into the American sports mainstream.

“This is another really important step toward that evolution,” Wilt said. “You’re seeing it manifested in increased television ratings, (more) bars showing the game, increased number of people wearing soccer jerseys and paying attention to it. But is this the be-all and end-all of the sport? No. It’s just another very important stepping stone on the way to making soccer a critical part of the American sports landscape.”


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