By JONATHAN LEMIRE
NEW YORK (AP) - Fresh off its World Cup championship, the U.S. women's soccer team got a hero's welcome on Friday with a ticker-tape parade in lower Manhattan mobbed by young girls and other flag-waving fans, followed by a City Hall ceremony where each player was given a key to the city.
"All of this for us started when we were little and we had a dream," star forward Abby Wambach told a crowd of 3,500 at City Hall Plaza. "In my opinion, all the women up on this stage believed in that dream, kept believing in that dream. "
Head coach Jill Ellis called the celebration "mind-blowing." And midfielder Carli Lloyd, named the World Cup's most valuable player after scoring three goals in the final, told the crowd, "Well I'm a Jersey girl ... but New York City, you guys are awesome."
Parade-goers - many wearing red, white and blue - started gathering at 3:30 a.m. along the Canyon of Heroes, a stretch of Broadway where the nation's largest city has honored its legends. When the parade got underway at 11 a.m., the crowd was as much as 10 deep along the route. Chants of "USA! USA!" were distinctly high-pitched.
It was the first-ever ticker-tape parade in New York for a women's sports team - a fact not lost on the crowd. A 4th floor window on a building near the route was decorated with a homemade sign that reads "Girl Power" with four American flags.
"I'm glad to see girls getting a parade," said 9-year-old Christinah Delesine, who wore a blue soccer shirt. "There should be more."
Robert Sanfiz, who brought his three children - Julia, 8, Chris, 7 and Tommy, 2 - had a similar take.
"It's great for her to see women finally be represented," Sanfiz said. "It's great for her self-esteem."
Ireland Giaquinto, 13, held a sign reading, "Thank you for letting me dream."
All 23 players from the team - none of whom are from New York City, though four hail from nearby New Jersey - were riding on four of 12 floats. One of the floats was carrying the World Cup trophy, along Lloyd and Mayor Bill de Blasio. Gov. Andrew Cuomo was on a separate float.
The players could be seen taking selfies and shooting photos of the crowd. As the parade started, goalkeeper Hope Solo tweeted: "We couldn't be more excited be here!" with a photo of herself and five teammates.
The southern end of Broadway is the traditional spot for New York City for the parades where workers in tall officer buildings once tossed ticker tape - strips of paper with stock price information - onto celebrants below. The tape has been replaced by shredded paper.
The New York Yankees have gotten parades when they've won the World Series, and the New York Giants have been celebrated when they've won the Super Bowl, most recently in 2012. Among the famous people honored: Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Albert Einstein.
Even though the women's soccer team is a national team instead of local, the push to honor the players with a parade had been fervent. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer had written to de Blasio, saying it was a good opportunity to showcase female athletes.
"When they brought back that trophy, they also brought back the message of the power of women," de Blasio said at City Hall.
The United States has returned to the top of the FIFA women's rankings after winning the World Cup. The U.S. toppled Germany after beating Japan 5-2 in Sunday's final in Vancouver to collect the top prize in women's soccer for the first time in 16 years.
Associated Press Writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.
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