Did USMNT World Cup failure let U.S. Soccer win equal pay case vs. USWNT?

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A young fan holds an "equal pay" banner during a USWNT friendly against Colombia in 2016. (Photo Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
A young fan holds an "equal pay" banner during a USWNT friendly against Colombia in 2016. (Photo Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

When the U.S. men’s national team lost to Trinidad and Tobago in 2017 and failed to qualify for the World Cup, it was an embarrassing setback for the U.S. Soccer Federation.

Two and a half years later, however, did that devastating loss help U.S. Soccer win the equal pay lawsuit against the U.S. women’s team? It sure seems that way. 

If the USMNT had qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the players on the men’s team would’ve been compensated much more handsomely, dismantling a key argument the judge has used to rule against the USWNT and in U.S. Soccer’s favor.

In a summary judgment issued Friday, U.S. district court judge R. Gary Klausner accepted U.S. Soccer’s argument that the USWNT had been paid more than their male counterparts, not less, and ruled that the USWNT’s gender discrimination complaint didn’t warrant a trial. The women sued U.S. Soccer last year seeking $67 million in back pay, but the judge said Friday that the women “have not demonstrated a triable issue that WNT players are paid less than MNT players.”

In the judge’s ruling, he specifically pointed to U.S. Soccer’s calculations that say the USWNT had played 111 games during the time period covered in the lawsuit, earning $24.5 million, an average of $220,747 per game. Meanwhile, the USMNT had played 87 games and earned less money, $18.5 million for an average of $212,639 per game.

What USMNT could have earned at 2018 World Cup

But what if the USMNT had actually qualified for the World Cup? 

Then it’s a different story. The actual compensation each team had earned would’ve flipped, ruining U.S. Soccer’s defense and bolstering the USWNT’s claims.

Yahoo Sports has used the USMNT’s collective bargaining agreement to calculate what the male players would’ve earned if they qualified for the 2018 World Cup and still lost every game when they got to Russia. In that scenario, the USMNT would’ve played 90 games and earned an average of $256,169 per game.

In this hypothetical scenario, the USMNT still could’ve lost their World Cup qualifier against Trinidad and Tobago — instead, the results of other games could’ve swung in the USA’s favor on that fateful day. And the men wouldn’t need to earn a single point in Russia either.

The USMNT would’ve earned a team bonus of $2.5 million for qualifying for the World Cup, and each player would’ve earned a $68,750 bonus for making the World Cup roster. Even if the USMNT lost all three group games at the World Cup, they’d still earn a bonus of $6,875 per player per game during the tournament. 

That scenario brings the USMNT’s total compensation up to $23 million. That’s still just shy of the total $24.5 million the women earned, but in far fewer games with a larger per-game average.

If the USMNT advanced to the knockout round of the World Cup in Russia, as they had in both the 2014 and 2010 tournaments, the USMNT’s total compensation would’ve then far surpassed the USWNT, too. That’s because they’d earn an extra $4.5 million bonus just for getting out of the group stage, not to mention additional bonuses for every point won as well.

The USWNT, meanwhile, couldn’t have done any better than they did in the time period covered by the lawsuit. 

The women won the World Cup twice in 2015 and 2019, earning the maximum payout available in their own collective bargaining agreement, which is a fraction of the bonus money available to the USMNT. Analysis of the team’s contracts show the maximum a USMNT player can be paid from U.S. Soccer for a World Cup is around $1.2 million. For USWNT players, it’s less than $300,000.

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/players/372615/" data-ylk="slk:Michael Bradley">Michael Bradley</a> and the USMNT were eliminated from World Cup qualifying by Trinidad and Tobago back in October 2017. (Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)
Michael Bradley and the USMNT were eliminated from World Cup qualifying by Trinidad and Tobago back in October 2017. (Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)

Judge argues USWNT cannot compare CBA to USMNT

That has been part of the USWNT’s argument all along: The only reason the women earned as much as they did is because they won constantly and performed at an elite level. The women shouldn’t have to win everything to be compensated closely to the men, they’ve said.

But the judge in this case was unmoved by that argument, essentially determining that the USWNT got the collective bargaining agreement they wanted in negotiations. In his ruling, he wrote that the USWNT “was willing to agree to lower bonuses in exchange for higher fixed payments” in negotiations with U.S. Soccer.

The judge went on to argue that it’s irrelevant to compare what the USWNT could’ve earned under the USMNT’s contract because the USWNT never wanted the USMNT’s contract.

The women “cannot now retroactively deem their CBA worse than the MNT CBA by reference to what they would have made had they been paid under the MNT’s pay-to-play structure when they themselves rejected such a structure,” the judge wrote.

This case isn’t over yet, however. A USWNT spokeswoman says they plan to appeal the judge’s decision. And while the judge did throw out the dispute over wages, he has allowed the claims over discriminatory travel accommodations and support services to continue, which could go to trial June 6.

But the focal point of the USWNT’s lawsuit was the argument over equal pay. On that front, it appears that by crashing out of the 2018 World Cup qualification tournament, the USMNT bailed U.S. Soccer out.

Caitlin Murray is a contributor to Yahoo Sports and her book about the U.S. women’s national team, The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Changed Soccer, is out now. Follow her on Twitter @caitlinmurr.

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