Insider Notes: USWNT, U.S. Soccer Settlement Seeming Less Likely

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For the last several months, it seemed extremely likely that the U.S. women’s national team’s gender-discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer would be settled out of court before both sides ended up in a courtroom on May 5. But recent actions by U.S. Soccer—including president Carlos Cordeiro’s letter released on Saturday and the strategy by USSF lawyers to argue that women’s players have less responsibility and are scientifically worse than men’s players—has decreased the chances of a settlement and increased the possibility that the case will go to court after all.

When asked about the chances of a settlement on Sunday, U.S. defender Becky Sauerbrunn said: “That would be a nice thought. I think it goes in waves. I think sometimes we thought [an out-of-court settlement was] closer, sometimes further. And things that happened like [Cordeiro’s letter], you were like, 'Oh, we’re a little bit further.' And so for us, anything less than equal, we wouldn’t settle for.”

Sauerbrunn said that even before the latest news of the federation’s legal strategy, which belittles the USWNT simply because they’re women. As the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday, U.S. Soccer sponsor Coca-Cola said it was “extremely disappointed with the unacceptable and offensive comments” made by the federation and wanted to meet with USSF officials immediately.

The thinking before was that the case was likely to be settled because neither side was incentivized to go to trial. The USWNT players risked losing the case—a court of law is different from the court of public opinion—and U.S. Soccer was thought to want to avoid embarrassing situations like this week’s as well as going through a discovery process that might make public some things that the federation didn’t want to be public.

But that discovery process has happened now, and with each additional development over the past week, the two sides are farther apart. A settlement seems like it’s a long ways off at this point.

The U.S. women's national team remains locked in an equal pay battle with U.S. Soccer

Coronavirus takes over

Whenever reporting for these columns, I check in with dozens of sources and ask specific and general questions about what they’re hearing. But the only answer I heard this week from most of my sources—whether it was league or team sources—was the same thing: It’s all about the coronavirus.

In Seattle, where there has been community spread of the virus, the Sounders announced on Wednesday that they were canceling their March 21 home game against Dallas per the statement of Governor Jay Inslee on preventing large gatherings. It was also likely that the San Jose Earthquakes, which play in another area with community spread, would either cancel home games or play in an empty venue.

One MLS team source described the week like this: “All coronavirus. One of the most difficult periods of my career.”

For more information on sports and the coronavirus—including thoughts on what should happen with the NCAA basketball tournaments, Euro 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics—we’ll be publishing my interview with my wife, Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious-disease expert, in conjunction with Thursday's edition of the Planet Fútbol Podcast.