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The U.S. women’s national team keeps winning, but its biggest fight is coming in the courtroom

Megan Rapinoe and the U.S. women's national soccer team have not lost since January 2019. (Chris Carlson/Associated Press)

On the eve of the Women’s World Cup final this past summer in France, U.S. star Megan Rapinoe caught many by surprise by saying kind things about the U.S. Soccer Federation.

After all, four months earlier the national team players had sued the governing body for gender discrimination, and for years, they have grumbled the USSF does not treat them as well as the less successful men’s program.

But on that day outside Lyon, Rapinoe said at a news conference that “I’m the first one to step up and fight with them and nudge them a little more, but they have backed us tremendously in comparison to every other federation in the world. I don’t think it’s close. That’s why we’ve been able to be as successful and as dominant for as long as we have.

“We don’t often give them kudos, but that’s definitely one I’m willing to give."

U.S. Soccer spends much more on men’s coaches than women’s, tax records show

In essence, Rapinoe credited the USSF for being a global trailblazer in women’s soccer while urging it to make domestic gains.

Needing to address matters on the field and in the courtroom, it has been a balancing act for both sides. Amid some friction, they have continued to coexist.

At training camp, it’s all business, and interaction with federation officials is cordial.

However, as the world’s top-ranked team preps for the Olympics this summer in Japan, the sides continue to maneuver in the legal arena.

With a trial set to begin May 5, both the players and federation last week filed motions of summary judgment. In their filing, the players revealed they are seeking almost $67 million in damages.

In asking for dismissal, the federation cited separate collective bargaining agreements for the men and women. The women receive base salaries and earn bonuses, while the men collect appearance fees and bonuses only.

“The women’s national team players are paid differently because they specifically asked for, and negotiated, a completely different contract than the men’s national team, despite being offered, and rejecting, a similar pay-to-play agreement during the past negotiations," the USSF said in the recent court filing. “Their preference was a contract that provides significant additional benefits that the men’s national team does not have.”

The federation said the women, through a CBA that runs through 2021, receive guaranteed annual salaries, medical and dental insurance, paid child-care assistance, paid pregnancy and parental leave, severance benefits, salary continuation during periods of injury, access to a retirement plan and multiple bonuses.

Molly Levinson, spokeswoman for the players, countered by saying in a statement: “In the most recent CBA negotiation, USSF repeatedly said equal pay was not an option regardless of pay structure. USSF proposed a pay-to-play structure [for the female players] with less pay across the board. In every instance for a friendly or competitive match, the women players were offered less pay than their male counterparts.

"This is the very definition of gender discrimination, and of course the players rejected it.”

In the USSF’s 2018 tax statement, as first reported last week by The Washington Post, all the top-earning players were women. The reason, though, is the women are also paid by the federation to play in the National Women’s Soccer League; the men make almost all of their money through contracts with clubs around the world.

The USSF has underwritten the women’s league since its 2013 launch by paying the salaries of the elite American players.

The suing players say NWSL assignments are on top of what they do as a perennial international powerhouse. The women’s team has not lost since a January 2019 friendly at France, and this month it stretched its unbeaten streak to 28 (25-0-3) by storming through the Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournament without conceding a goal.

.As Soccer America pointed out, both sides will make their case by using the words of their counterparts against them.

In a deposition this winter, USSF President Carlos Cordeiro was asked about a campaign statement in which he said, “Our female players have not been treated equally.”

And in Rapinoe’s deposition, the USSF inquired about an interview in which she said: “Our pay structure is different. We play different games. We’re different rankings in the world, like it’s just apples to oranges.”

The gender-equity issue extends to the coaches, though there are no lawsuits involved. The 2018 tax records show the federation paid substantially greater salaries to men’s national team coaches than women’s coach Jill Ellis, who won consecutive World Cup titles before stepping down in the fall.

While the court date nears, the national team will try to remain focused on a fifth Olympic gold medal. Under new coach Vlatko Andonovski, training camp will resume this week in the Orlando area ahead of the fifth annual SheBelieves Cup.

The United States will face No. 6 England on March 5 in Orlando, No. 13 Spain on March 8 in Harrison, N.J., and No. 10 Japan on March 11 in Frisco, Tex.

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