The 2023 Women’s World Cup qualifiers are just two weeks away. And instead of dwelling on previously longstanding off-the-field issues, the United States Women’s National Team can just play.
It’s about time.
At least that’s what Mallory Pugh and Sophia Smith emphatically said Tuesday during a news conference ahead of the USWNT’s friendly against Colombia at 5:30 p.m. Saturday in Commerce City.
The match at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park will mark the first for the program since historic collective bargaining agreements between the U.S. Soccer Federation and the men’s and women’s national team players associations were announced in mid-May.
The deal achieved guaranteed equal pay and equal rates of pay for both teams through 2028 and includes World Cup prize money. Multiple players on the USWNT had been fighting for equal pay since 2016.
The 26-player squad practiced at the UCHealth Training Center on Tuesday and three Colorado natives, Smith, Pugh and Jaelin Howell, addressed media on a wide range of topics, including the new CBA. For Smith, a 21-year-old Windsor native who has only been on the squad since 2020, the agreement still feels seismic one month later.
“I mean it’s awesome, I’m just so blessed to be in position,” Smith said. “We’re always thanking the people that came before us and those who have literally been fighting this fight for probably longer than I’ve been alive. For us to benefit from that is amazing.
“(I was) excited — but also — finally, relieved. Because it’s long overdue and it’s something that should’ve happened a long time ago. It’s definitely a big stepping stone, but, obviously I think there’s still a long ways to go.”
Smith has been on a tear this season with the Portland Thorns in the NWSL. She is the second-highest scorer with eight goals so far in the regular season. Across all competitions, including club and national team matches, she has 15 goals in 2022.
Still, with a major tournament on the horizon and her first Women’s World Cup qualifying tournament no less, the opportunity to just concentrate on matches is a win-win.
“I’m just looking forward to playing games with this group, I think it’s an awesome roster,” Smith said in her opening comments. “I’m really excited with what I think we can do. I think the older players are just giving us a lot of insight on how these tournaments work. These teams are good teams, you never know what you’re gonna get from them, so to expect anything. Just prepare for the best teams and do what we have to do to get the results that we need.”
In the month since the agreement, women’s national teams have pressed federations on the issue of equal pay across the globe.
The Spanish women’s national team will receive the same percentage of bonuses as the men’s team, effective as of last week, while the Netherlands agreed to a similar deal which will start in July. Norway and Australia also have equal pay deals for the same game day pay rate, but the U.S. Soccer deal addressed total compensation gap.
For Pugh, a Highlands Ranch native who has been with the national team since 2016 and scored six times in 2022, it’s the end of one chapter, but the beginning of an entirely new one for the future of women’s sports.
“The one thing that I keep saying is that I am grateful,” Pugh said. “I think that there have been so many people that have put in so much time and effort in this whole process, and it’s been a long process. To finally reach our goal and get what we deserve, it’s just really cool to see. I think it’s also very hopeful, just to see how women’s sports is gonna continue to grow and evolve. Hopefully we just keep moving forward.”
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