According to the lawsuit, during the year following the team’s 2015 World Cup win, the women drew bigger TV audiences and generated more money for U. S. Soccer. (Meanwhile the U. S. men’s team failed to even qualify for the 2018 World Cup. ) Still, they’re paid significantly less—some players make just 38 percent of what their male counterparts make, according to the lawsuit. “Right now the structure is set up so that our counterparts on the men's national team have the opportunity to make so much more money,” says Press.
These women did it for the game, not the money. “The ’91 team, the ’99 team, a lot of those players had [other full-time] jobs,” says Carli Lloyd, 36, the team’s veteran forward, who will be playing in her fourth World Cup this summer. “I remember hearing some of them talk about how they had one uniform and they just had to rewash that uniform over and over again.
That’s the secret sauce, says defender Crystal Dunn, 26. “We always have it in our mind that it doesn’t matter how the game is going: We’re going to win," she says. "We can be down one goal, two goals, three goals, it doesn’t matter—we’re looking each other in the eyes and I’m like, OK, I know we’re going to win. ” That can be the deciding factor in a World Cup or Olympics tournament. “A seven-game stretch is long—teams can’t always handle the mental load,” Dunn says. “What our team has always been really good at is pulling each other in and picking each other up throughout a long tournament.
If there is one downside to everything the USWNT has done to push the game forward, it’s this: In the 2019 World Cup, they will face the most competitive field ever. “The game keeps getting better and faster and more skillful and technical—we’re pushing those boundaries of what women’s soccer is,” says midfielder Julie Ertz, 27. “That’s the really fun part. ” The global interest in women’s soccer is one the USWNT has helped create. “Teams are better because they're getting more resources and more opportunities,” Press says.
On June 11, when Lloyd and Press and O’Hara and Morgan and Dunn and Ertz and Rapinoe and the rest of this legendary team of rock stars kick off their first match against Thailand, we’ll be cheering—and they’ll be listening. “I love imagining us having a quiet moment in the tunnel before we go out to the field—it’s such a significant moment in our lives,” Press says. “But then you imagine everyone in the bars cheering, getting ready for the game throughout the country and in our hometowns.
The USWNT has smashed expectations for almost three decades, producing some of the biggest moments in sports: Brandi Chastain’s triumphant celebration in her sports bra after scoring the winning goal in the ’99 World Cup, Abby Wambach’s iconic header, Carli Lloyd’s hat trick in the first 16 minutes of the 2015 World Cup final. (That game drew a record-shattering 750 million viewers. ) And off the field, the USWNT players have worked to change sports for women everywhere, most recently filing a mic-dropping federal lawsuit against the U. S.
Despite the fact that these women play against each other on club teams, where the competition is fierce, for most of their careers, they know that when it’s time to represent the U. S. , they are stronger together. “I could not imagine a group of people who are more dedicated to being better than each other,” says forward Christen Press, 30. “But this team does an amazing job of coming together and really fighting and putting all that fuel in the same direction.
Just as Hamm and Chastain and Wambach once did, the 2019 team is steamrolling a path for girls to follow in their footsteps. “Before I even saw the women on the National Team play, I probably heard the story of their fight and their journey, and their desire to empower other women and carry that torch,” says Press.
That win in ’91 put the team on the world soccer map but it would be years before a national network of year-round teams was established, and many felt the players weren't getting the support they deserved.
Soccer Federation maintains that it hasn’t discriminated against the women’s team, and that the men and women players have fundamentally different jobs, team organizations, and compensation setups.