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U.S. Women's National Team

U.S. Women Trying to Keep Focus on Field, Olympics

Between the lines, Jill Ellis' squad has flirted with perfection in 2016, but off-the-field issues are still hanging in the air as the Americans prepare for their final game before heading to the Rio Olympics.
BY John D. Halloran Posted
July 22, 2016
12:55 PM

KANSAS CITY—On the field, the United States women’s national team has vanquished all comers in 2016 while cruising to a 13-0-1 record. Off the field, things have been a bit more complicated.

In February, U.S. Soccer sued the team’s player association over its labor agreement, specifically the team’s right—or lack thereof—to strike. Combined with the players’ response to that lawsuit, the fight spilled over into the public arena. Then, in March, five players filed a federal EEOC complaint against the federation, citing wage discrimination.

In June, a federal judge ruled that the team could not strike under its current agreement, ending the threat of a work stoppage that had the potential to affect the team’s participation in the Rio Olympics.

Then, earlier this month, the players took the fight back to the court of public opinion telling the New York Times’ Andrew Das that the team would wear “Equal Play Equal Pay” t-shirts during media appearances for their match against South Africa in Chicago and temporary tattoos on the field in their final two Olympic send-off matches.

But in Chicago, the players didn’t wear the t-shirts and then repeatedly avoided addressing the issue in a direct manner.

After earning her 100th shutout in the 1-0 win over South Africa, goalkeeper Hope Solo said, “We wore our jerseys today and I have my really cool 100th shutout shirt on, so I’m sure you’ll be seeing the t-shirts around, I know a lot of our fans got the t-shirts today.”

Carli Lloyd, playing her first minutes since injuring her MCL in April, said, “It wasn’t the right place to wear them. We had never planned to wear them.”

However, on Thursday, speaking before the team’s final send-off match against Costa Rica in Kansas City (9pm ET, ESPN), midfielder Megan Rapinoe offered a different explanation.

“There are certain times where we’re actually required to wear certain gear. We’re trying to respect that,” said Rapinoe.

And while the winger said the team would continue its equal pay campaign via social media, she stated the fight wouldn’t interfere with the team’s work on the field.

“There are certain times we can stand out, then there are certain times we need to do our job and fall in line,” she added.

Despite the step back from public statements during official U.S. events, Lloyd told reporters in Chicago that the team is using its fans to help keep the fight alive.

“We brought awareness to it with the shirts and with the stickers. The American Outlaws have them and that’s all there is to it. We’ve got to focus on going to Rio,” said Lloyd. “When we get home, we’ll continue to fight, but right now it’s putting our focus on winning the gold medal.”

Head coach Jill Ellis echoed that mindset, stating she expected the equal pay fight to have no impact “whatsoever” on the team’s focus heading into the Olympics.

Midfielder Crystal Dunn explained after the match in Chicago that the team has remained united throughout the fight for equal pay.

“We’re one team and we’re unified in what we’re standing for right now," Dunn said. "It’s a big movement that we’ve obviously put into the forefront and it’s important that we stay together, stay connected, and don’t back down.

“Especially for players like myself, it’s a big movement for me to be a part of and I’m just very fortunate that we’re standing our ground and we’re fighting for what we believe in.”

Solo noted that the team is simply carrying on the work that started with previous generations of players.

“It’s a movement that started long before us,” Solo said. “We’re just kind of carrying the torch. Hopefully, we can educate people. The more we discuss it, the more people can get educated. It’s not based off opinion, or what people feel about the women’s game versus the men’s game—it’s actually based on facts.”

Solo also added that players from other nations have solicited the Americans for advice in getting their own federations to do more. She said the U.S.’ fight is important for women’s soccer all around the world.

“We’ve had a lot of Colombia players come up to us asking how to make a statement, but ultimately, we do feel like it falls on our shoulders because we are the No. 1 team in the world," Solo said. "We have the backing of our federation more so than other federations, but we have to continue that fight. It starts with us and then, hopefully, other teams will follow suit.

“We have a long way to go.”

John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

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