Lindsey Moneymaker and Ainsley Yates had stood in line for more than an hour Thursday afternoon, waiting patiently at the Under Armour Brand House with hundreds of strangers who they did not know but could hardly tell apart: mostly girls, likely clutching a soccer ball or a jersey or a cleat, desperately wanting to meet Kelley O'Hara and Lauren Holiday.
But when they neared the end of the queue at the Harbor East store, and the space for a preteen between the U.S. women's national team members opened up, Lindsey and Ainsley did not know what to do. The Hereford club-soccer players had not waited this long and come this far to argue. But neither wanted to be the first to meet a Women's World Cup champion.
"They were going back and forth," recalled Jason Moneymaker, Lindsey's father. His voice sped up, accelerated to the rate of squabbling friends: "'You go first. No, you go first. No, you go first.'"
Ainsley, 10, went first. She walked over to O'Hara and Holiday and asked for an autograph. She posed for a photo. Afterward, she revealed her choice of clothing for the first day of school: the shirt on her back they'd just signed. "Everybody's going to be like, 'Whattttt?'" she said, laughing.
"The hype has grown," Jason Moneymaker later added, "for sure."
O'Hara and Holiday by now expect these moments of celebrity, even six-plus weeks after a record 25.4 million U.S. TV viewers watched the United States rout Japan, 5-2, in the World Cup final. On Wednesday night, they were in Chattanooga, Tenn., for the second game of their World Cup victory tour. As lightning and rain slammed Finley Stadium, an announced sellout crowd of 20,535 came to watch the Americans rout Costa Rica, 7-2 — the largest showing for a U.S. women's friendly in the Southeast.
When they arrived in Baltimore, O'Hara and Holiday visited Under Armour headquarters in Locust Point. Already corporate pitchwomen, they talked with company officials about their plans for the future — O'Hara is one face of its "I Will What I Want" campaign, Under Armour's largest ever marketed toward women, and together they have nearly 300,000 followers on Twitter.
As they entered the store Thursday afternoon and headed to a room with local media, they walked past Under Armour ads bearing their likenesses. Next to them was a poster with another famous face, that of supermodel Gisele Bundchen.
"Really, since the World Cup, it's been such a whirlwind for all of us," said Holiday, who is retiring at the end of the current National Women's Soccer League season.
The first fan they met was in tears. The next two had waited in line at the store for 4½ hours. Among the waves of fans to come were a club team that had shown up at the store wearing its jerseys and soccer shorts; a mother with her three kids, the youngest no older than 5; and a father in a Ravens jersey clutching a signed ball, a surprise for his daughter.
Megan Marcin was there, too, along with her daughter, Madeline, 8, and son, Drew, 11, a goalkeeper on a Columbia club-soccer team.
"We followed the Women's World Cup the whole way through," Marcin said. "I love that my son wants a female-athlete autograph."
Domestically, women's soccer finds itself at a strange in-between phase of its World Cup honeymoon. The national team perhaps has never been more famous: Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd have appeared on late-night talk shows this summer. Sports Illustrated commemorated the July championship with 25 covers, one for every member of the team. More than 20,000 tickets to friendlies against Australia in Detroit and Birmingham, Ala., sold the day they became available.
But the path ahead to long-term stability and financial viability is still unclear. On Monday night, Morgan criticized the NWSL on Twitter for its "unacceptable" player accommodations, citing bed bugs at a Kansas City, Mo., hotel. Promoters sometimes still spell O'Hara's first name as "Kelly." ("It's funny when it's someone who might want something or you're asked to do an appearance," she said, "and they spell your name wrong.") And of the 10 remaining regular-season NWSL games this season, just two are on TV.
"We are pushing the limits of women's sports," Holiday said, "and it's time for the game to start to grow with us."
There is still time for that. The victory tour continues next month, and international competition picks up with Olympic qualifying in January. On Thursday, O'Hara and Holiday were happy to stand and smile and sign. For some of their more excitable fans, it seemed like a holiday.
Given their long wait and nervousness in line, Lindsey, 9, and Ainsley were asked, was it like seeing Santa? No, they said. It was different.
"Santa's Santa," Ainsley said.
"You get presents from Santa …," Lindsey started to explain.
"Every year," Ainsley clarified. "But you never meet a soccer player."