U.S. women’s national team co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn told SI’s Planet Fútbol podcast, out on Tuesday, that the U.S. women’s players are “getting closer” to a new collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer—and that she hopes there will be “a healing process” to ease tensions between the players on the U.S. women’s and men’s national teams.
“We’re getting closer,” said Sauerbrunn, who’s in camp with the U.S. women ahead of Thursday’s friendly against Russia in Frisco, Texas (8:30 p.m. ET, FS1). "There are obviously still gaps in certain parts of the CBA that we haven’t agreed upon, but ever since we made the concerted effort to change the tone [in late December] … we’ve had 20-plus negotiations where players are present with our negotiating team.”
Sauerbrunn, who has taken on an increased leadership role inside the team, said the negotiations have been complicated, not least because the CBA for national team players has included their pay for national team games as well as the NWSL (which is subsidized by U.S. Soccer). Sauerbrunn said the U.S. women’s players aren’t ready yet to have a pay structure just like that of the U.S. men, whose national team pay is separate from their club pay.
“For so long, the national team has been our source of security for the player pool,” Sauerbrunn said. “The men have their pro teams. The national team has been our ‘pro team’ in quotes. And so for us as a players association, we’re looking forward and saying, ‘O.K., where is the women’s game going? What would be the most beneficial for the program?’
“We absolutely think going to a pay-to-play model is the future. The problem is women’s soccer is not at the stage yet where our player pool can find our source of security from the NWSL. And so instead of making this huge shift, we’re gradually meeting in the middle, and then going from there.”
Sauerbrunn said that while no final deal has been reached yet, the two sides have made progress in negotiations.
“We’ve thought out of the box, and they’ve accepted a lot of it, and I think that was really difficult for them,” she said. “So I think we have gotten a lot closer on certain parts of the structure than we have in past months.”
When asked in February by the Planet Fútbol podcast whether he would use the term “equal pay” (to the U.S. men) to describe the agreement he hoped to reach with the women’s players, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said he preferred the term “equitable pay.”
Sauerbrunn said she agreed with that characterization.
“We’re trying to figure out where women’s soccer is going, so we may not have the same exact structure as the men,” she said. “So equal isn’t the right word. It would be equitable, because we are asking for a different structure.”
Sauerbrunn said that she and her teammates were extremely supportive of the U.S. women’s hockey team’s fight for an improved labor deal in recent weeks. She added that she was also impressed by the support the women’s hockey team got from the U.S. men’s hockey players.
When asked if she wished there was a better relationship between the U.S. men’s and women’s soccer players, she said yes.
“I think a healing process needs to happen,” she said. “Early on [in USWNT labor talks], it was very much ‘the men make more than the women do, and they probably aren’t as successful.’ And I think that set a really bad tone. There are still bad feelings about that. I think it’s really unfortunate. Because I think if the men did support us, I think that voice, the federation would hear that. The country would hear that. So I hope there comes a point where we can get together … and talk through it. Or just have a healing moment.
“Because we love the men. We know if they do well, the program does well. They generate a lot of revenue, and that money goes back into the program and benefits everybody. So we wish them the best, and we certainly hope they would wish us the best.”
Sauerbrunn said as a co-captain she had approached one of the U.S. men’s players and would like to do so again.
“I reached out to one of the players a while back,” she said. “I thought maybe our players associations would maybe come together and put a statement out. But it just never happened. Some interviews came out, and you could tell that some of the men weren’t quite sure how they felt about the whole equal pay for equal play, so it kind of fell by the wayside. Hopefully that is something I would like to amend in the future, because I think having a good relationship between the men and the women would be a really good thing.”