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USWNT file federal complaint over wage discrimination

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Seattle Reign FC players Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe are two of five players representing the USWNT in the complaint.

JaneG. Photography

On the heels of a scathing New York Daily News article detailing how U.S. Soccer constructed an unequal pay scheme, five U.S. Women's National Team players—Seattle Reign FC's Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe, along with Carli Lloyd, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Alex Morgan—have filed a federal complaint claiming wage discrimination.

In the complaint—submitted to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency that enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination—players requested an investigation of U.S. Soccer. Their main claim is that despite generating nearly $20 million more revenue last year than the men, the women are paid almost four times less.

While it is true women's sports do not often bring in as much money as the men, these numbers prove it was not the case for the U.S. women's national team last year. Regardless, any assumed financial edge in men's soccer still wouldn't explain the significant disparity in pay.

"I think that we've proven our worth over the years," Carli Lloyd, the 2015 FIFA women's player of the year, said in an interview on NBC's Today show. "Just coming off of a World Cup win, the pay disparity between the men and women is just too large."

This filing is just the latest in an increasingly strained relationship between the USWNT and U.S. Soccer. In December, after Reign forward Megan Rapinoe tore her ACL in Hawaii, the team boycotted the World Cup Victory Tour game over field conditions. After that, the union representing the players became embroiled in a fight with U.S. Soccer over their Collective Bargaining Agreement. The women claim they have no valid CBA, while U.S. Soccer sued the players to prevent them from striking, arguing that a valid CBA exists.

In reaction to Thursday's news, U.S. Soccer issued a statement that touts its investment in the NWSL and women's soccer, calling U.S. Soccer's efforts to be advocates for women's soccer "unwavering."

While it is true the U.S. stands above many other countries when it comes to equality in soccer, members of the USWNT believe U.S. Soccer hasn't been making progress against this claim. On Today, Hope Solo said she hasn't seen much change in her decade and a half of experience on the team.

"We continue to be told we should be grateful just to have the opportunity to play professional soccer, and to get paid for doing it," Solo said. "In this day and age, it's about equality. It's about equal rights, it's about equal pay."

In reviewing the complaint, it is certainly difficult to make a like-for-like comparison between the women's and men's national teams, as the pay structure for both is different. The women are paid on a salary, while the men only receive payment if they're called into camp. This structure makes sense considering the extremely low pay available in the NWSL, and the fact that NWSL players have no union to help bargain for compensation.

Despite this, bonuses tied to individual match appearance are stark. Let's pretend that the USMNT win against Mexico in a friendly. Players will earn $17,625. A player on the USWNT will recent $1,350 for a similar win, regardless of the opponent. Now let's pretend the men lose to Mexico. Each player receives $5,000. If the women lose to Mexico? They get nothing.

In addition, the discrepancies become even more extreme when you look at team performance in the World Cup. In 2014, the men received $3.6 million for reaching the round of 16. They would have gotten an addition $5 million if they advanced to the quarterfinals. The women received nothing until they reached fourth place or higher. Here's the U.S. Soccer justification for this, as reported in the New York Daily News:

While US Soccer could dole out the money in any way it wishes, Neil Buethe says it disburses the rewards according to expectations: The men are not expected to win the World Cup, so they are rewarded at an earlier stage, while it's common for the women to place near the top, if not win the Cup outright.

Tim Howard told ESPN's SportsCenter on Thursday that the men's team supports the women's team fight, stating, "We support the fact that the women should fight for their rights and fight for what they think is just compensation. We, on the men's side, have been fighting that battle for a long, long time." Landon Donovan also expressed his support on Twitter.

As Stars And Stripes FC reports, there's not much information yet on how any of this might impact NWSL, since U.S. Soccer subsidizes the league through its payment of national team player salaries. While the results from the complaint will only impact those on the national team, it could pave the way for players in the NWSL. In 2015, the minimum salary in the NWSL was $6,842, while the maximum salary only went up to $37,800.

Last summer, more than 25 million people tuned into Fox to watch the U.S. women defeat Japan to win another Women’s World Cup, a record for a men’s or women’s soccer game on English-language TV in the United States. What followed was a whirlwind Victory Tour, where attendance records were shattered. The players chose to take this attention and turn it into an advocacy opportunity, and it is hard to fault them for that.

This summer, the U.S. women travel to Rio to compete in the Olympics, where they are favorites to make it to the final once again. It is too early to know if any of these longstanding issues will be resolved when they get there.