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ESPNW, Women's World Cup: Abuzz In Times Square

ESPNW, the worldwide leader’s distaff digital content play, held a coming out/viewing party around the U.S team’s 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup opener against North Korea on Tuesday in Times Square.

Both sides were looking to gain a little buzz at the Crossroads of the World.

Positioning itself outside of corporate cousin ABC’s Good Morning America studios, ESPNW laid down a faux green carpet/soccer field that housed bleachers so fans could watch the video screen perched above the zipper circumscribing the building. There were juggling and soccer performances by Freestyle Soccer CA Group, a foosball table and a gun to gauge the speed of shooters’ shots.

Sports medicine physician Dr. Jordan Metzl put local youth soccer teams through exercise paces aimed at preventing ACL injuries. Too bad, WNBA star Candace Parker didn’t take the class — she sustained the injury on Sunday at the Prudential Center in the LA Sparks game against the New York Liberty.

The pedestrian area was anchored by kiosks sporting the slogan “Because You Love to Play.” They served as U.S. women’s national team posters of sorts, presenting images of striker Abby Wambach, midfielders Carli Lloyd and Shannon Boxx, and goaltender Hope Solo. The names of ESPNW founding sponsors: Nike, Gillette’s Venus line of shavers, Secret anti-perspirent and Gatorade’s G-Series also adorned these displays.

T-shirts and other promotional items sought to raise ESPNW’s profile with the motto, “One letter says a lot.” A tape showcased images of WNBAers, softballers, skater Michelle Kwan, WTA star Kim Clijsters and distaff track and field athletes. But since ESPNW is not only about women’s sports, but female viewpoints about the games guys play, Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and world No. 1 tennis player Rafa Nadal, among others, also landed in the loop.

Inside, ESPNW personnel, including vice president Laura Gentile, EVP of multimedia sales Eric Johnson and site editor-in- chief Tina Johnson, entertained members of media, and varied guests, who noshed on a diverse menu, highlighted by kielbasa over sauerkraut and St. Pauli Girl. HD monitors dotted the room.

On screen, a too-long promo from Nike showed some of the U.S. team’s training methods and locker room interviews. When the clip interfered with the start of the match, a veteran journalist (not me) groused and the feed from Germany kicked off 20 seconds after kickoff.

As the U.S. struggled to gain its footing, Johnson, the founding editor of Women’s Health and an executive editor at Teen People, talked about ESPNW appealing to the 18-to-34 crowd and how access to athletes was critical to reaching that set.

To that end, the site is featuring blogs from a number of Women’s World Cuppers: New Zealand’s Ali Riley, Canadian captain Christine Sinclair, Sweden’s Caroline Seger and U.S. defender Heather Mitts and midfielder Megan Rapinoe. Female futbol’s former face Mia Hamm is also contributing to ESPNW’s WWC coverage.

Since relaunching on April 26, ESPNW is presenting more videos and has expanding its base of writers: 15 freelancers are currently on the squad. Johnson also talked up more ties to collegiate athletics through collaborations with broadband service and ESPNU. The schools want the publicity, she noted.

For her part, Johnson wants ESPNW to inspire young athletes, much in the same way they can look up to the women’s national team.

After a skittish first 45 in which Solo had to make five saves, including a diving stop at the right post and brushing aside a flick, the” U.S. turned up the turbos” in the second half and the “Koreans didn’t have much of an answer,” commented Ian Darke, ESPN’s lead soccer voice, who called the game with 91er and former women’s national team captain Julie Foudy.

A last-minute starter for Rapinoe, Lauren Cheney, the best player on the pitch in Dresden, headed a Wambach cross into the back of the net and everybody inside breathed a sigh of relief in the 54th minute.

Outside, the bleacher creatures, several draped in Old Glory, craned their neck skyward at the action, hooting and hollering at the teammates’ aerial precision. Their fervor was further fueled 21 minutes later when Ali Krieger’s long shot skidded across the crossbar and fell to Lloyd, who dropped it to Rachel Buehler. The defender grounded it inside the left post, securing the three points for Team USA. The loyalists stayed to the end, savoring the victory on the aluminum bivouac.

Earlier, one attendee of the Alicia Keys’ GMA concert overstayed his welcome. Climbing atop a light post, where he was apparently pushing his CD, ESPNW’s soccer set-up was sidetracked for a spell. To hear several who witnessed the intrusion tell, New York’s Finest danced around the interloper, who evidently wasn’t removed from his perch because he didn’t evince aggressive behavior.

No red card for self-promotion, I suppose.