As the South Pasadena High School girls soccer team gathered on July 16 for its first meeting with new coach Francisco Lopez, another team’s recent accomplishments on the field — as well as wider, social issues off the field — were still fresh on many minds.
The U.S. Women’s National Team had defeated the Netherlands on July 7 to claim its fourth World Cup gold medal, inspiring female athletes worldwide while also shining a spotlight on women’s equality issues, particularly through the comments of captain Megan Rapinoe.
Both those aspects of the USWNT’s storyline were topics of conversation as the Review chatted with Lopez and his Tiger players as they began their own journey of championship dreams — a journey that begins with a summer clinic on July 29, ahead of the Dec. 3 season opener.
“We grew up watching the World Cup men and that’s exciting, but to see that U.S. women’s soccer is at the level that it is right now is impressive,” said Lopez, who was named coach on July 1. “I really enjoyed it. I was just in awe of the competition and the quality of the games.”
Not only did the women’s national team stand in stark contrast to the men’s national team, which failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but the American audience on English-language television for the final women’s game was 20 percent higher than the 2018 men’s final, according to Fox Sports.
Facts like that produced a steady drumbeat, throughout the tournament, of commentary on the pay gap between the women’s and men’s teams — issues not lost on the South Pas girl players.
What’s the issue, specifically?
An analysis of each national team’s collective-bargaining agreements conducted by the British Guardian newspaper found that USWNT players earned about $730,000 less, per player, than their male counterparts over the course of the tournament.
Men earn more across the board in World Cup bonuses, in addition to receiving a set of bonuses the women don’t get.
Rapinoe was one of 28 players who sued the U.S. Soccer Federation in March 2018 for “institutionalized gender discrimination,” which the reigning world champions say has existed for years. Equal pay was also present as a chant in the stadium after the World Cup win.
“I think we knew that this win … was going to be bigger than soccer. But that moment, I think, just solidified everything,” Rapinoe told CNN. “It was like this World Cup win is so much more than what was on the field.”
For his part, Lopez said that with the streak of World Cup titles and increased level of play, it was valid for women players to be rewarded for their efforts, and that women deserve to have a say in the issue of pay equality. He recognized there were many issues at play that affected the pay range.
“We hold every sports team at a certain standard when they win something big, whether in the NBA, soccer, football: it’s exciting and they get rewarded for it,” said Lopez. “I think it should be the same platform for women.”
Tiger senior Corey Segal traveled to see the last Women’s World Cup in Canada in 2015. She enjoyed watching this year’s tournament on TV and said that the U.S. women’s national team dominated the competition. With its performance, she felt the balance was changing in the level of attention the team brought in across the board.
“Women’s sports are never considered by the U.S. as being equal to men, but I think the U.S. women’s national team stands out a lot because they have shown they can dominate and bring in crowds and revenue and merchandise,” said Segal.
As a soccer player herself, Segal also felt energized by the wide media coverage and spotlight that was placed on women’s soccer. She expressed uncertainty if anything would immediately change with pay, but she felt it was “sparking conversation” and looked to be going that way.
“The conversation, it has been happening for a while but now, they’re getting more fired up about it and other people too want to support it, so that’s good,” said Segal.
Sophomore Carolina Garavito said a main focal point of the tournament was centered around the team’s conversations on equal pay, and she felt it was an important issue to be highlighted.
“If they could win, does that mean they deserve equal pay, or if they didn’t win, do they still deserve it?” Garavito said. “I think they’re just proving you can’t underestimate someone because of their gender or whatever it may be.”
Garavito felt the national team should have earned the same amount of pay for the same amount of work. She said the team trains just as hard as the men’s team, and that its win proves women players can meet the same mark.
“Their techniques are amazing, but I think the bigger part of that is they’re striving for equality in their workplace,” said Garavito.
“I think if you just left that alone and you didn’t discuss it, it’s a big part of their life. That’s how they make their income and that’s how they benefit themselves.
“Being an athlete, that’s incredibly tiring, and you put your blood into it,” Garavito added. “I think people should really invest and say they’re really doing something incredible.”