On Tuesday night at Audi Field, midfielder Sam Coffey became player number 250 in the history of the U.S. women’s national team as she earned her first cap in a 2-1 win over Nigeria. She played a full 90 minutes, then lingered on the field with the rest of the team for the signing of the new collective bargaining agreements between the women’s and men’s national teams and U.S. Soccer.
“I’m standing there in the background of these photos, and I’m like, ‘I literally could not have less to do with this,’” Coffey joked in the mixed zone after the match, before expressing gratitude to all of the players involved. “This is obviously such a pivotal event, what happened today, and I don’t think it’s really hit me, that it just happened. When you think about equal pay, that’s been something that women’s sports in general has been fighting and continuing to fight for so many years.”
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement is SIGNED! pic.twitter.com/sLNu2RAusZ
— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) September 7, 2022
Coffey is the new kid on the block, but she’s now directly benefiting from that new CBA, which guarantees equal pay and equalized prize money for both the WNT and MNT. Coffey has already earned some appearance fees for being named to previous rosters, but with her first appearance her check will now include a performance payment, as well. For the win over Nigeria, who are ranked No. 46 by FIFA (payments are larger for matches against opponents ranked in the top 25), that means an extra $5,000 for just the one match.
Asked about how the USWNT checks coming in affect her as a rookie player, she replied, “It’s literally life changing,” before cracking another joke about how she would need a financial advisor soon enough.
“You hear so many horror stories about players ice bathing in trash cans, living in homes that have broken doors and windows. So many of those things are still happening, but maybe don’t get the spotlight. This is unbelievably deserved and long overdue.”
Other players have a much longer history with the CBA process as well as the overall equal pay fight. One of those players, captain Becky Sauerbrunn, who is also president of the USWNT players’ association, gave a speech on the field before the signing.
The Captain is speaking. 🎤 pic.twitter.com/neuHkTNHSi
— U.S. Women's National Soccer Team (@USWNT) September 7, 2022
“I wasn’t quite sure it was going to happen during my career,” Sauerbrunn later said, when asked about the emotions of the night, and the moment of finally getting it all across the line. She pointed to U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone, as well as their coordination with the men’s national team. “A lot of groups had to work together, so there is a sense of relief. It was really complicated making sure all needs were met, and the Federation being happy with the agreement, as well.”
So if there was one emotion that was dominating over all the rest? “A lot of pride.”
While the NWSL CBA signing ahead of Angel City’s home opener earlier this season was a bit thrown together for the broadcast, Tuesday’s signing felt like as much of an event as you can possibly make out of the simple act of signing a few papers around a table. And while U.S. Soccer signed CBAs with both senior national teams, centering on the women on Tuesday felt earned.
“This is a historic moment,” Cone said, when asked why the federation had embraced such a public approach to something that usually doesn’t get its own spotlight.
“The amount of time and energy, the blood, the sweat, the tears that we’ve all put into this to make this a reality. We wanted a celebration. We didn’t just want to sign in some room that no one ever saw, or email it with DocuSign. We wanted to make an event of it, and celebrate it, because I think everyone is as proud of this as they should be.”
Tuesday night did feel like a celebration — and a deserved one — but it was also clear from the players that, while they’re going to relish the win, there’s still work they’re willing to do.
“Federations have already been reaching out,” according to Sauerbrunn. “We’ve actually been working with the FA. They want to know what the CBA looks like, how it works. We’re willing to share all our ideas, all the mechanics of it.”
As much as they’re willing to work with other federations directly, there’s the larger project of FIFA, as well.
“There’s so much from a global perspective, we’ve got the World Cup coming up next year,” Megan Rapinoe said. “Sponsorship dollars, the amount FIFA puts into it, this whole infrastructure around the global game, I think needs to increase so much. All the results are there. The 2019 World Cup was amazing, the Euros were amazing, Champions League was amazing.”
Rapinoe then turned her attention to the NWSL.
“Domestically, our league still has a long way to go,” she said. “We’re still dealing with a lot of issues that we shouldn’t have to. The potential and the springboard that hopefully this can provide for the league, and also the global game, is huge.”
But the moment on Tuesday night still feels surreal for Rapinoe.
“It’s hard to put into words,” she said, echoing so many of her teammates. “We weren’t able to do what we did without (the previous players) laying the groundworking and being able to stand on their shoulders.”
On the field, multiple generations of the USWNT mingled. Julie Foudy served as MC, but Briana Scurry and Kristine Lilly also represented the ‘99ers, along with WNT general manager Kate Markgraf. Their presence was appreciated by Sauerbrunn, who also called out former player Parlow Cone for her role in the CBA during her speech.
“Kristine Lilly, who was there from the get-go, she was an OG when it comes to this kind of stuff,” she said. “It’s just kind of perfect that they’re there to kind of pass the baton and actually see us, like they said, sprint with it.”
Rapinoe said that it was the first time the current players had a chance to celebrate with their predecessors.
“It feels like a whole program, and then looking forward to what this means for the next generation — the battles they can go and push on and continue to grow the sport.”
Coffey unknowingly answered that call only a few moments later. She knows she has her own role in the team’s tradition of pushing for more.
“Now it’s our responsibility to continue to fight to help them in any way we can,” she said, before tossing in another joke. “We can’t just be mooching young players who just reap all the benefits of now getting equal paychecks.”
Thrilled for all the players who fought for and have now earned equal pay, she was just trying to take full advantage of this time where she overlaps with them in a locker room. On Tuesday night, she joined their ranks.
“We’re along for the ride. We get to learn from them, and hopefully continue this fight for them.”
(Photo: Brad Smith/ISI Photos)