The Women’s World Cup is happening in less than two months, and the U.S. women’s national team is in prep mode. That means tinkering and trying some new things, like different tactical formations, unexpected substitutions and varying lineups.
Of course, that tinkering prep work means that the team could lose or draw games it might normally win. And for the women on the team, that means losing out on hard-fought performance bonuses.
According to Caitlin Murray of the New York Times, USWNT players have lost out on around $1.7 million in performance bonuses since those bonuses were negotiated two years ago. The size of the individual bonuses varies depending on the quality of the opposing team, but wins against top ranked teams like Germany earns every rostered player a bonus of $8,500. The team as a whole can miss out on as much as $200,000 in bonuses if they fail to win. Draws do pay out bonuses, but at a far reduced amount.
That’s a lot of money to miss out on. But right now, the focus for coach Jill Ellis is preparing for the World Cup, not winning every single match.
“You want to win,” Ellis told Murray, “but I’d rather get every box checked.”
Ellis isn’t trying to make the team lose, she’s trying to make sure that she and the entire team are ready for the World Cup. Risking a loss to work out the kinks is worth it for Ellis.
But at this point, it may not be worth it for the players. Ellis was tinkering with the team during the SheBelieves Cup earlier in 2019, which resulted in the USWNT drawing against Japan and England. They eventually came in second, but with extra bonuses for first place finishes (and reduced payouts for draws), the Times reported that the team lost out on almost $400,000 during the entire competition. Megan Rapinoe, one of the USWNT’s standout stars, was not happy.
“Sometimes it’s OK to sacrifice results in terms of performance to get the best out of the team and figure out what that is,” Rapinoe said, “but we’re probably past that point — or we should be.”
Agreeing to performance bonuses is a gamble, but the players knew that going in. According to Murray, the U.S. Soccer Federation would not increase guaranteed salary during 2017’s collective bargaining negotiations, so the players gave up some of that guaranteed salary to get increased bonuses. That’s risky, even considering the team’s deep roster of talent and incredible record of success. But the tinkering is something they didn’t count on and can’t control. Ellis is doing her job, but the immediate result of that can mean lost bonuses for the players.
It’s a tough balancing act for everyone involved. The players have a financial incentive to win, while the coach wants to make sure the team is good and ready for the world’s premiere soccer event that happens just once every four years. With the USWNT taking the U.S. Soccer Federation to court over gender discrimination and pay disparities, there may be a point in the future when the team doesn’t have to deal with conflicts like these — but it doesn’t look like it will be anytime soon.
More from Yahoo Sports: