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No matter what a judge decides, U.S. Soccer lost its fight with the U.S. women in the only court that matters a long, long time ago.
The public won’t much care that the U.S. women made slightly more than the U.S. men from 2015-19, a period in which the women won two World Cup titles while the men failed to even qualify for the 2018 tournament. Or that they chose a lower bonus structure in exchange for guaranteed contracts because their opportunities to play professionally are far more limited – and far less lucrative — than the men’s.
What the public and the all-important sponsors see is a charismatic and likable team that has been kicking the rest of the world’s butt for 30 years now, yet still can’t get its due from U.S. Soccer. They see the same tired attitude that exists in every profession, the women and their accomplishments being valued when it suits U.S. Soccer, but the federation .
And they understand, unlike U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner, , that the women have to win everything just to keep pace with a men’s team that isn’t even in the top 20 in the world.
U.S. players Kelley O'Hara (left) , Allie Long (right) and Alex Morgan kiss the World Cup trophy in 2019. (Photo: Richard Martin, USA TODAY Sports)
Had the U.S. men simply qualified for the 2018 World Cup, in fact, they would have earned substantially more than the U.S. women, .
It is worth considering all of this as the women and U.S. Soccer consider their next moves. The women have already said they plan to appeal Klausner’s ruling on the equal pay claim, and the judge said their claims of discrimination related to charter flights, travel and support staff can go to trial.
Given the reaction over the weekend – presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden urged the U.S. women to keep fighting and for the men’s World Cup that U.S. Soccer is co-hosting with Canada and Mexico in 2026 – it is in everyone’s best interest to get this settled before the trial that is scheduled to start next month.
The two sides engaged in mediation last summer, but it was unproductive and short-lived. But the stakes are different now. Klausner’s ruling cost the women some of their leverage, and they are unlikely to get the $67 million in back pay they were seeking. At the same time, any “win” for U.S. Soccer will come at an exorbitant price with the public and corporate sponsors.
The U.S. women are the best thing, by far, the federation has going for it. That’s a good place for negotiations to start.
It helps that U.S. Soccer has undergone a massive overhaul in leadership since that scorched earth court filing in March that diminished the women’s skills and abilities and said they didn’t face the same “responsibilities” as the U.S. men.
The federation's new president is Cindy Parlow Cone, who knows all too well how U.S. Soccer has short-changed the U.S. women, having played on the national team from 1996 to 2004. Its new CEO, William Wilson, did not come through the insulated fraternity at Soccer House, U.S. Soccer’s headquarters.
If there is a genuine wish to reach a settlement that reflects the women’s contributions and gives them the respect — and compensation — they deserve, the opening is there.
U.S. Soccer seemed to acknowledge that with its statement Friday night, which lacked the incendiary language that has been used in the past. Instead of gloating or declaring victory, there was the suggestion of reconciliation.
“We look forward to working with the Women’s National Team to chart a positive path forward to grow the game both here at home and around the world,” it said.
But there will be no positive path forward until this fight is behind them. A fight everyone knows U.S. Soccer can never actually win.
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1. Abby Wambach – 184 (2001-15) Michael Chow, USA TODAY Sports2. Mia Hamm – 158 (1987-2004) H. DARR BEISER, USA TODAY3. Kristine Lilly – 130 (1987-2010) DIANE WEISS, USA TODAY4. Carli Lloyd – 123 (2005-present; through March 5, 2020) Stephen M. Dowell, AP5 (tie). Michelle Akers – 107 (1985-2000) JOHN T. GREILICK, Associated Press5 (tie). Alex Morgan – 107 (2010-present; through July 2, 2019) Maja Hitij, Getty Images7. Tiffeny Milbrett – 100 (1991-2005) ROBERT HANASHIRO, USA TODAY8. Cindy Parlow – 75 (1996-2004) GRACE BEAHM, Associated Press9. Shannon MacMillan – 60 (1993-2005) EILEEN BLASS10. Christen Press – 58 (2013-present; through March 11, 2020) Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images
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