Bridging the Gap: The Fight for Equal Pay in American Women’s Soccer (and Why it Matters)

By Mira-Rose Kingsbury Lee

In 2015, the US women’s soccer team won their third FIFA World Cup, scoring 5 goals against Germany in the final for a decisive victory.

The game broke records- it was watched by 26.7 million viewers, becoming the most-viewed soccer game in US history. But it was a celebration marked by disquiet.

For years, there had been objections from the women’s team surrounding the gender pay gap in American soccer. According to Sports Illustrated, “The [US women’s team] is paid almost four times less than the [US men’s team], despite producing nearly $20 million in revenues for U.S. Soccer in 2015.” The problem isn’t exclusive to the top tier of women’s soccer- players in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) often are paid barely above minimum wage for a full season of training and playing. The pay ceiling for an NWSL player is only $37,800. For reference, the average salary for a male soccer player in Major League Soccer (MLS) is $300,000.

    But the point is not to compare- as Carli Lloyd, star player for the USWNT, wrote: “Our beef is not with the men’s national team; we love those guys, and we support those guys. It’s with the federation, and its history of treating us as if we should be happy that we are professional players and not working in the kitchen or scrubbing the locker room.”

    The hostile environment toward advancement in women’s sports makes it difficult for young women to play professionally. As Beacon soccer player Ariel Portnoy says, the pay gap is “ridiculous, and totally unfair.” Most importantly, it dissuades women from playing soccer professionally, because it’s so difficult to make a living off of the relatively low salary, and the chances of becoming a professional player are incredibly small. Of the 388,000 girls who play soccer in high school, only 27,000 play in college. Of those 27,000, only 180 players go professional in America, and play in the NWSL. Some of those players are paid as little as $15,000 for a full six-month season of training, practicing, and playing games. That low income discourages girls from striving to play professionally, and robs the field of talent.

Carli Lloyd summed it up nicely when she wrote, “[the USWNT is] totally determined to right the unfairness in our field, not just for ourselves but for the young players coming up behind us.”