A quick guide to the U.S. women’s soccer pay dispute

This World Cup is going to be quite competitive, today’s 13-0 rout notwithstanding. The bad news is that the USA’s chances of winning are less than 50-50, but the good news is that the reason is the growth of the game worldwide. No one who cares about women’s soccer would want the game in England, France, the Netherlands and elsewhere to make no progress.

And it raises a question that pops up on occasion: Why aren’t the U.S. women aren’t paid as much as the U.S. men?

You may be surprised here. Unless U.S. Soccer is outright lying on its 990 form for the fiscal year ending March 2018, the women are being paid more than the men.

Look at pages 7-9, the breakdown of what USSF pays its highest-paid employees. You’ll see that USSF spends ridiculous sums of money on its current and past men’s national team coaches, which we can refer to as The Klinsmann Boondoggle. Even aside from that, it’s hard to understand why the men’s Under-20 coach is paid more than women’s coach Jill Ellis.

The only players, from any team, on this list are …

  • Christen Press, $257,920
  • Becky Sauerbrunn, $256,720
  • Kell(e)y O’Hara, $256,695
  • Samantha Mewis, $247,497

It occurred to me that USSF could have listed the men as independent contractors. But the 990 lists any independent contractor making more than $100,000, and no U.S. men appear there. Also, for the fiscal year ending March 2010, Jozy Altidore and Brad Guzan are listed in the same “highest-compensated employees” that lists Press and company on the most recent 990. (Altidore and Guzan made a little more than $150K, if you’re curious.)

How is this possible? A couple of things:

  1. The men’s team rotates players often. In 2018, even though the men only played 11 games (shame about that World Cup), they used more than 50 different players. No one played 10 games. In 2017, when the men played 19 games, a few players reached double digits, led by Jorge Villafaña, of all people, with 15. (This is worth remembering when we see the “a man playing 20 games” argument — unless I’ve missed someone in the media guide, no man has played 20 national-team games in a year since Landon Donovan in 2002, the year the USA reached the World Cup quarterfinals.) The women might use 30 players in a year, with 8-12 of them getting only a couple of short appearances.
  2. The women (20-25 or so, at least) are on salary. The men are not.
  3. The men haven’t exactly collected that big World Cup bonus. In FY ending March 2018, they actually won a major tournament (the Gold Cup), and their bonuses still didn’t propel anyone into the Sauerbrunn/O’Hara $250K range.

All of this makes things complicated.

But it doesn’t necessarily make things right.

To my knowledge, no one has quantified what “equal pay” would look like. I tried …

It’s a long thread. The highlights are a women’s salary that equals what a man would make if he played 20 games, evening out “base pay” a bit, and comparable competitions get comparable bonuses. Oh, and I’d slash the men’s bonuses if they ever make a big World Cup run, instead investing that money in youth soccer. Please don’t tell them I said that. And I wonder if I’m just replicating the scenario in the Rush song The Trees, in which the trees are all kept equal by hatchet, axe and saw.

Even then, you’re faced with a question. When you say “equal pay,” does that mean the women get the same amount of money, divided 30 ways, that the men get divided 50 ways? Or does it mean Alex Morgan should be paid the same as Christian Pulisic?

So that’s the present. But it’s also worth knowing the past, and for that, you should really read Caitlin Murray’s book, which is excerpted in The Guardian.

And that all points to the weird duality of U.S. Soccer and the U.S. women:

  1. The USSF has done quite a lot to push women’s soccer forward.
  2. The USSF has, at times, treated the women’s players with negligence or even malice.

All of which makes it very difficult to assess the fairness of any CBAs, especially those we haven’t seen.


One thought on “A quick guide to the U.S. women’s soccer pay dispute

  1. The employee (USWNT) versus independent contractor (USMNT) difference also muddies the waters.

    For instance, does US Soccer pay for medical insurance for USWNT players? And if so, is that cost included in the USWNT pay calculations as it would fall under “total compensation” for most employees.

    Also, how do you figure in things like the maternity and injury leave pay that the USWNT want and that the USMNT players never get because they are independent contractors.

    I think the clearer things that need to be addressed are things like playing on grass all the time, flights & hotels, and those sorts of things that should be equal when in control of US Soccer.


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