If you ask the average US Soccer fan, the perception these days is that the USWNT and the USMNT are probably not on great terms. That stems in part from the recent WNT “equal pay for equal play” fight in which they alleged inequitable treatment by US Soccer when compared to the MNT. It was part of their wage discrimination complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and what followed was a lot of discussion of the relative merits of the NTs. There were frequent comparisons by fans and media of who had won a World Cup and who had not, as well as discussions about attendance and revenue and which team was more popular.
Were some MNT players’ feelings hurt in the middle of it all? That seems to be the case, and in an interview on Grant Wahl’s Planet Futbol podcast, WNT co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn talked about wanting the two senior teams to be more unified.
The lead-in was a question about the recent US women’s national hockey team fight against USA Hockey, asking for more financial support from their governing body after years of enduring miserable pay conditions. In that fight, the US men’s hockey team stood in solidarity with the women and also offered to boycott a major competition. This is in pretty stark comparison to where various MNT players have landed at times with respect to the women.
“I think a healing process needs to happen,” Sauerbrunn told Wahl. “Like you said, early on it was very much ‘the men make more than the women do and they probably aren’t as successful’. And I think that set a really bad tone. And I think there’s still bad feelings about that. And I think it’s really unfortunate and I think it’s disheartening because I think if the men did support us, I think that voice, I think the federation would hear that. I think the country would hear that. So I hope there comes a point where we can get together at some point and talk through it…because we love the men. And we know that if they do well, the program does well. They generate a lot of revenue. That money goes back into the program and it benefits everybody. So we wish them best and we certainly hope that they would wish us the best.”
Sauerbrunn seemed hopeful for the future of the two teams’ relationship, and maybe this interview will begin the process. USSF putting more resources in the WNT is good for the MNT, just as Sauerbrunn noted increased MNT success supports the federation, which in turn should support every other team under its umbrella. When one team grows stronger, that should help pull along every other team - theoretically, anyway.
It wasn’t all reconciliation. Sauerbrunn also talked a little bit about the WNT’s current CBA negotiations with US Soccer. Andrew Das of the New York Times noted that the team has been sitting down with USSF in Texas at the moment while they prepare for their upcoming friendlies against Russia. Sauerbrunn told Wahl that the new CBA is “very nuanced” and “We’re trying to be creative with some of the obstacles that we’ve come up against.”
She also said the WNT does want to move more towards the men’s model of pay, which is based on callups and win bonuses, as opposed to the women’s salary structure. “The problem is that women’s soccer is not at the stage yet where our player pool can find our source of security from the NWSL,” Sauerbrunn noted. While men still make the great bulk of their paychecks from club play, women’s soccer development in the US is not quite there yet. Sauerbrunn implied that this CBA would begin the gradual shift towards that new model while acting as a “launching point” for future CBAs.
There was a lot more in the interview, from her reading tendencies to FC Kansas City’s preseason and her hopes for an NWSL team in her hometown of St. Louis. The whole thing is well worth a listen if you want to get a feel for where the USWNT is headed both on and off the pitch. Sauerbrunn is one on the WNT who has emerged in recent years as a calm voice of leadership, someone the players and fans alike can look to when things are skewing off axis. That, at least, bodes pretty well for the immediate future.