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The USWNT players were scrutinized at nearly every turn. The players’ attitudes were viewed as arrogant and disrespectful by some and the pressure to win constantly loomed over their shoulders. But in the end, the team put together seven outstanding performances over the past month, proving their critics wrong. (Photo/Kate Skeean) 

Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and the rest of the United States Women’s National Team strolled to the USA fan section at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais with winners’ medals around their necks and American flags on their backs. They had just won the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

The record-breaking run to the final was finished off by a commanding 2-0 victory over the Netherlands.

The USWNT players were scrutinized at nearly every turn. The players’ attitudes were viewed as arrogant and disrespectful by some and the pressure to win constantly loomed over their shoulders. But in the end, the team put together seven outstanding performances over the past month, proving their critics wrong.

Gianni Infantino, the president of FIFA, stepped onto the stage for the trophy ceremony and was met with boos from across the stadium because of FIFA’s lack of investment in women’s soccer. 

“A little public shame never hurt anybody,” Rapinoe said to the AP in response to the chants and the boos. “So I am down with it.”

While the celebration continued and trophies and hugs were doled out all the same, the USA fans began to chant at Infantino: “Equal pay! Equal pay!”

Earlier this year, 28 USWNT players filed a class action lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation — the body that governs and employs the men’s and women’s teams — arguing that the federation is currently working in violation of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

After a convincing tournament win, compounded by growing media and public support, the pressure is on the federation. 

According to The Washington Post, the women’s team brought in almost $900,000 more than the men’s team from the 2016 to 2018 fiscal years. The 2019 World Cup should widen the already sizable gap.

Nike CEO Mark Parker reported the USWNT jersey is the No. 1 soccer jersey — men’s or women’s — ever sold on the Nike website in one season.

The final delivered more than 14 million viewers across Fox and streaming services, making it the most-watched soccer match on English-language television in the U.S. since the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup final.

Infantino has already taken notice of the movement. FIFA wants to double the prize pool to $60 million, increase the amount of teams participating to 32 and increase investment from $500 million to $1 billion all within the next four years. While it sounds groundbreaking, there’s still a long way to go. The men’s 2022 World Cup in Qatar will hail a $440 million prize pool. 

Maybe FIFA will start to invest more into women’s soccer. Maybe this was the tournament that will change the game. Maybe, after the champions return home, they will see a surge in National Women’s Soccer League attendance. Maybe the four-year cycle of caring about women’s soccer only during the World Cup will end. The tide is already turning in Europe as Barcelona, Lyon and other large clubs are investing more into their women’s teams.

Regardless of what happens after this World Cup, the USWNT deserves a fitting compensation for what it has already done for the USSF. The players filed suit, heard the critics and won the World Cup without trailing once. There’s no denying them anymore.

“I think everyone is ready for this conversation to move to the next step,” Rapinoe said in her postgame interview. “I think we’re done with the ‘Are we worth it? Should we have equal pay? Is the markets the same? Yadda yadda.’ Everyone’s done with that.”

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