The USWNT Fight For a Fourth Star and Equal Pay


Photo courtesy ESPN

The US Women's National Team celebrates their World Cup win this past summer.

After winning the 2015 FIFA World Cup and gaining global recognition, the U.S. Women’s National Team attempt at a 4th star was highly anticipated. However, this time around the US started their journey in an unorthodox way, with a lawsuit. In March 2019, 28 of the players on the national team filed a lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation calling out the continuous and undeniable gap in paychecks. One example of the pay gap is in the salaries for winning a World Cup. Women would be paid around $260,000 each, while men would be paid $1.1 million each. Another inequity in resources was in the 2015 Women’s World Cup, where FIFA only let the women play on artificial turf while the men’s team played on real grass. This lawsuit set a precedent for the USWNT in the World Cup. They would refuse to be silenced, and they would demand respect. 

With their first game scheduled last in the group stage, the US players were caged beasts ready to attack, and their first victim: Thailand. With a record setting 13 goals, the US made a statement about their relentless fire. However the teams continuous goal scoring and celebrations were scrutinized in the media, as they were seen as ruthless, and unnecessary. This raised an important question that would be frequently asked throughout the tournament, would the world have treated them differently if they were a men’s team? The answer is yes, and one of these inequities was pointed out by equalizer Alex Morgan when she defended her celebrations, “I feel that there is some sort of double standard for females in sports, to feel like we have to be humble in our successes.” This double standard is why the team fought to win more than just a game. They fought for equal pay, and equal respect from the world. 

In the US Women’s National Team’s second game of the group stage, they were able to show the depth in their roster by only playing four of the eleven starters who took the field against Thailand, and still winning 3-0 against Chile. 

The final game of the group stage was against Sweden. Although both teams would move on in the competition regardless of the outcome, a rivalry that developed in the 2016 Rio Olympics escalated the tensions during the game. In the quarterfinals of the Olympics, Sweden won the game on penalty kicks, and ousted the US. Sweden entered the game with a chip on their shoulder hoping to pull off another stunning upset, while the US entered the game hungry for redemption. After a total of 14 fouls and two yellow cards the US won the game 2-0. 

In the Quarterfinals the US played host team France, who was a force to be reckoned with. This game was nicknamed, “Le Grand Match”, and it was predicted that whichever team won, would win the 2019 World Cup. With two goals from Megan Rapinoe in the 5th and 65th minute a win for the US seemed secure up until defender, Wendie Renard, scored a goal in the 81st minute that put everyone on the edge of their seats. However, as France was unable to equalize, the US won the highly anticipated match, 2-1. 

The next game was the semifinals, against England. Many people wondered whether Christen Press would be able to fill the shoes of Rapinoe after she was left out of the lineup in this matchup. However after defender, Kelly O’Hara, impeccably floated the ball to Press in the 10th minute, she was able to score the first goal of the game with a header, assuring everyone that she deserved to be there. The US were not able to rest on their laurels for too long, as England player Ellen White equalized the game 9 minutes later. White consistently proved to be lethal inside the box throughout the World Cup. Later in the game during the 30th minute Morgan scored the second US goal on a header, then promptly followed with a tea sipping celebration. Originally this was seen as a dig toward England but it was actually an ode to Morgan’s favorite actress, Sophie Turner. Later in the game after Becky Saurbrunn fouled White inside the penalty box, England was awarded a penalty kick. Although this was England’s chance to stay in the game, much more pressure weighed on the shoulders of US goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher who lived in the shadow of Hope Solo for most of her career. The kick was taken by captain Steph Houghton, but Naeher saved the shot. This rightfully spotlighted Naeher as the hero of the game, and she gracefully silenced all doubts about her capabilities. The US won 2-1 and moved on to the World Cup Finals against the Netherlands. 

The Netherlands were deemed European champions and hoped to dethrone the US as world champions.  For the first time throughout the tournament the US were unable to score their first goal within the starting 12 minutes. After halftime in the 61st minute, captain Rapinoe, scored the first goal of the game on a penalty kick after Morgan drew a foul inside the box. This goal ended the scoring drought, and motivated the team even more as Lavelle scored the second goal only 8 minutes later. 

With those two goals the US Women’s National Team won the World Cup for the second time in a row. Rose Lavelle won the Bronze Ball. Morgan won the silver boot. Rapinoe won the golden boot. But what mattered the most to the team was the change they were able to spark off the field, winning these awards served as more ammunition in their fight for equal pay. Fellow athletes such as Aaron Rodgers, Aly Raisman, and brands such as Nike, Under Armour, and Visa, are already showing support for the USWNT through public advocacy, and campaigns.