College Sports

Next up for the US women’s national team: Chile and about 45,000 soccer fans

After seizing the spotlight in its opening game at the World Cup, the U.S. women’s soccer team is set to step on to an even bigger stage.

The bright lights of one of the world’s most famous cities and one of Europe’s most famous soccer stadiums, the Parc des Princes, await the American squad as it faces Chile on Sunday at noon. A sellout crowd of nearly 45,000 fans will be on hand, with the vast majority coming from all over the U.S. to cheer on the reigning champions.

“The fans that have traveled, and what they create for us in terms of support for our players, it’s magnificent,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said at a news conference Saturday afternoon. “They’ve had to travel a long way, and I’m sure at large expense. So I thank them for supporting this group of players. I think it’s fantastic. And they’re experiencing by far the most exciting tournament in the world for women, and I’m sure they’re going to get their money’s worth.”

U.S. fans at last Tuesday’s historic 13-0 rout of Thailand in Reims certainly got their money’s worth. Ellis on Saturday was hit with another handful of questions about running up the score and her players’ exuberant celebrations, and once again dismissed them all.

“That night was about celebrating people,” she said. “It might seem a scoreline to you, but it’s also years and years of work. ... The meaning behind those goals, the people behind those goals - you’ve got to celebrate that. This is part of sport.”

The record-setting score gives Ellis some latitude to rotate her lineup if she wants to. Chile is ranked lower in FIFA’s global standings (No. 39) than Thailand (31). When the U.S. and Chile met in a two-game friendly series last year, the Americans won by 3-0 and 4-0 margins.

Then again, Ellis could play her top team once more and make another statement ahead of Thursday’s grudge match against Sweden.

Asked about the odds of changes, Ellis gave a coy answer. But she left no doubt that the Americans will not back away from their swashbuckling style.

“We just want to play a really exciting brand of football,” Ellis said, and that applies to more than just games.

“I struggle to tell my team not to tackle each other in training the day before,” she added.

While the spotlight has mostly shone in recent days on perennial leaders Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, on Sunday it will focus on winger Tobin Heath and playmaking midfielder Lindsey Horan. They played for this city’s flagship team, Paris Saint-Germain, in past years.

Heath, a UNC alum, called Paris home in 2013 and 2014. Horan famously began her soccer career at PSG in 2012 after turning down a scholarship offer from the Tar Heels.

“For us to be here in Paris, kind of the heart of it all - and for me to be back in my second home - is absolutely incredible,” Horan said. “I’ve spent a little time with my family as well, and being back here with them is just super-cool for me, and kind of surreal.”

Horan has played tour guide for her teammates, including Courage midfielder Samantha Mewis.

“She gives us little French tips when we have questions,” Mewis said earlier in the week. “My parents and I followed her behind and her parents, like 10 feet away, because I had no idea where to go. We were just like little ducklings.”

U.S. vs. Chile

Women’s World Cup

When: Noon, Sunday

TV: Fox, Telemundo