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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on USYouthSoccer.org every Monday. A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom." 
 
 
Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of US Youth Soccer.

 

Caution

Susan Boyd

Most soccer fans are sadly aware of Abby Wambach’s arrest for a misdemeanor DUI in Portland, Ore., on April 2. However, a more significant part of that story has achieved less notice. As part of her arrest, Wambach had to detail all of her past drug and alcohol history. She admitted to first smoking weed when she was 24 and trying cocaine when she was 25. These incidents would have been during her rise to prominence on the international soccer scene and just after the 2003 World Cup in the United States. At the time, she had already been on the U.S. Women’s National Team for almost four years, played in one World Cup and one Olympics. It may seem a surprising time to begin using drugs when her fame is ascending and she has the world by the tail, yet it’s not so unusual. It’s also troubling to think that later at age 36, after a lifetime of success in her chosen field and hopefully the wisdom and maturity to know better, she would risk reputation and even her life to drive under the influence.

This is the insidious reality of drugs and alcohol. As parents, we can’t ignore the seriousness of these substances in how they can affect our children and their future lives. If someone as accomplished, settled, and respected as Abby Wambach can be affected by intoxicants, then certainly younger, less confident players might succumb. Our kids are assailed daily with mixed message about what their attitude should be concerning drugs and alcohol. In the midst of most televised sporting events they watch people in their 20s have all kinds of fun under the influence of alcohol. Laughing, dancing, attempting daring feats, and having adventures are all cleverly intertwined with some brand of alcohol. The not-so-subtle message that our kids receive is that if you want to be a cool grown-up having tons of fun, then you need to drink their product. When role models, who wear logos or even act as spokespersons for a brand, are added to the mix, it’s not surprising that kids get swayed. And that’s just alcohol.

Parents have a tough time keeping up with all the new drugs available to their kids, and many of them are bought and sold on school property. It’s not just the ones we knew growing up:  grass, cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines. Now there are an entire spectrum of “designer” drugs – compounds created in the lab (often in China) and sold under an alphabet soup of street names. Presently, the dangers of Fentanyl, a manufactured opioid, have made front page news with scores of deaths reported across the United States. As parents, we are up against so many factors that even strong vigilance can’t always combat them. When it comes to drugs and alcohol, the best defense is a strong preemptive offense. We can make boundaries clear, monitor social media, check with other parents, and stay involved without hovering.

We must make clear how we stand on the use of drugs and alcohol. Most experts suggest that parents clearly state and back up the policy of zero tolerance, but also establish that should a child become impaired, they should call mom or dad for a drive home with a promise not to discuss the situation until there’s time to sober up both chemically and emotionally. Parents should never be enablers. It’s certainly tempting to use the argument that “kids will drink, so I’d rather they did it in my house where I can keep them safe,” but that merely blurs the lines on what your actual position is on drinking or drug use. My neighbor used that argument and found herself with 23 misdemeanor charges for supplying alcohol to underage kids – each count carried a $425 fine and a 10-day jail sentence. It’s difficult to parent from jail, and fines eat up that college fund pretty quickly. Therefore, for all kinds of reasons, the “keep it in my house” argument is deeply flawed. The reality is that kids who have a group of friends will find themselves at least once at a party with intoxicants – that includes with teammates. Sports may keep our kids busy, but they don’t assure a drug and alcohol free environment. Social media makes it even easier to let the mob know where to congregate. Getting alcohol or drugs is also simple to locate through social media. Kids have older siblings who are willing to buy a six pack or they find what they want in the liquor and medicine cabinets of their own families. That’s why we have to stick to a zero tolerance and to expect our schools to help us out by keeping kids out for a game or two if they are caught. Tough love is called that for a reason. No one wants to see their child penalized for what we agree is a rite of passage for most kids. However, the decision to imbibe can be more damaging than a short suspension if kids learn that there are no consequences or they become addicted.

Because so much risky behavior can be linked to the group influences in social media, parenting consultants advise that we make it clear that cell phones and computers are a privilege, not a right. As such, our kids must include us in their circle of participants on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and other social networks. Experts say parents shouldn’t monitor constantly, but they should let their kids know that they will occasionally be checking in. If we find anything disturbing or questionable, we need to address it. One grandson — who is on numerous sports teams, a great student, and comes from a family with clear boundaries — was discovered by his parents to be considering the thought of sending and receiving provocative selfies because “everyone does it.” He was 14, old enough to understand the consequences once they were carefully explained to him but young enough to be under the strong influence of peer pressure. Parents must not discount how much power friends hold. Friends offer enticing opportunities that stuffy parents have spoken out against. Given the choice, most kids will opt with their peers. So keeping an eye on what is being offered, considered, done, or pushed should be part of our weekly duties.

Parents can also be allies. Become acquaintances with the parents of your children’s friends. A simple phone call to introduce yourself (Hi, I’m Ashley’s mom. I understand your daughter and Ashley have become friends) will open the door. Give parents your phone number and make it clear if any parent feels uncomfortable for any reason, they should call. When our kids tell us about a party, a trip to the mall, or a movie with friends, it’s a good idea to check with the parents to see if they’ll be home during the party or what curfew they set for their kids. That way our children can’t tell us that Ashley’s mom lets her stay out until midnight. Dating has to be a family discussion to agree upon not only the age when dating will be allowed but also the etiquette of dating. That should include meeting the parents and definitely meeting the prospective date. One idea is to have the date over for dinner to get to know him or her without the awkwardness of everyone just wanting to leave and get on with the date. When traveling to tournaments, we can’t always go along, so make sure there’s a family you trust to keep an eye on your player. Before a tournament, it would be a nice gesture for the coach to gather the parents and ask them what they feel comfortable with when their kids are away – R movies, going to a convenience store on their own, and video games are just a few of parents’ concerns. Recently in Wisconsin, a high school coach got in trouble for letting a group of senior girls watch “50 Shades of Grey” during the car ride home. That could have been avoided had the parents been involved. By the way, most of the girls said they had already seen the movie, which convinced the coach to allow the viewing. Shocker – that wasn’t true.

Pre-teens and teens are so difficult to teach because, of course, they see themselves as a) invincible, b) smart enough to avoid problems, c) entitled to stretch the boundaries, and d) so much cooler than their parents. When we point out the dangers of alcohol and drugs, their attitude is often dismissive because facts are far less interesting than anecdotes in which people have a great time and there are no short or long term consequences. All we can do is use opportunities to quietly state our concerns and our love. When push comes to shove, most kids will opt for their friends’ opinions over their parents’ years of wisdom. So we have to trust that we have invested in our children some common sense that will guide them through impulsive decisions. They may use illegal substances, but they may also be smart enough to not get in a car. We have to cover all the options and let them know that we trust them which doesn’t mean, by the way, that we are naive. I let my kids know early on that I probably knew 80 percent of what they thought they were doing secretly, and occasionally in a non-threatening situation I would inform them of one or two things I knew just to make it clear I was watching. My daughters, who are grown up now with kids of their own, marvel at how well informed I actually was, and how well informed they are. Nevertheless, it’s the 20 percent that’s scary. We can only combat that by being accessible, giving our kids all the information we can without lecturing, loving them, and applying the appropriate consequences. A psychologist once told me that a kid’s job is to get the best deal he or she can get. If that requires lying, sneaking around, manipulating, and begging then so be it. Our job is to stick to what we believe, not give in, and be consistent in how we exercise our discipline. If rules will change, they need to be our choice and not in reaction to a sudden situation (Come on – the movie doesn’t even get out until 10. Why do I have to be home at 11?). Which reminds me: Never answer why because kids love to get us into arguments (“Be home at 11” rather than “Because that’s the curfew”).

What always surprises me is how our children can grow up so differently from one another. I raised four children with what I thought were exactly the same boundaries, love and expectations. I have four completely different offspring. I’m sure there were subtle differences in how I handled things but more significantly, the outside influences on my children were often dissimilar – teachers, coaches, teammates, friends, setbacks, attitudes, and a myriad of other intrusions on my perfectly constructed parental plans definitely left their imprint. So despite our standardize efforts, it’s actually wonderful that we raise clearly individual and independent kids. However, that variability also wreaks havoc with insuring that we’ll never have to deal with drug and alcohol use and dependency. It happens in the best of families to the best of people. When a role model like Abby Wambach gets caught, it can be a teachable moment both for parents and kids. Even someone with maturity, status, and support can be trapped by bad decisions. Let our children know that everyone is fallible — even we are — but we all need to be cautious when it comes to being swayed by outside pressures or our own internal impulsiveness. Giving our kids a safety net through love, attention, and the “it takes a village” approach by including other parents, teachers, clergy, and coaches in raising our kids may prevent some life-altering mistakes. If not, the net will help mitigate the long-term effects of those decisions, sometimes after a painful period of time. I know the ache of watching people I cherish succumb to drugs and alcohol, but I also know the powerful healing that can come from love.

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Roadside Distractions

Susan Boyd

Whether your child plays select or recreation soccer, chances are good that in the next six months you’ll travel at least 300 miles to a tournament. It’s not only becoming more and more acceptable for any team to travel, but it has also become expected. Even though a decade of these trips set back our retirement 20 years, we always looked forward to them. They were opportunities to explore different parts of our country and spend quality time as a family. However, traveling proficiently required a learning curve. Being cooped up in a car for hundreds of miles across empty prairie lands didn’t always result in loving togetherness. Instead, the trip sometimes quickly devolved into petty arguments, mega sulking spells, and lots of “Are we there yet?” voiced in strained pleading tones, especially on the ride home after a less than triumphant contest. It became important to not only find ways of passing the time but also ways in which everyone could participate. We hated relying on DVDs because they just isolated everyone and stole their attention away from the landscape we were discovering. Following are some of the delights we bonded over, plus a few new ones I wish we’d had on those trips. Several of these can also be used on planes and even in the hotel room. On rainout days we were able to entertain an entire team in the lobby of our hotel. For a minimal investment, we managed to gather a wide variety of fun.

You all know the standard road games like the alphabet game, auto bingo, and license plate hunt, which work, but not always for all age categories. I still recommend them because they require little expense (auto bingo cards run $1 to $2 each) or no expense at all. The problem comes when you enter the truly “open road” sections of a trip where signs, animals, plants and structures are at a minimum. Hunting for the letter Q in no man’s land usually leads to giving up at worst and restlessness at best. Plus those games don’t work on an airplane. You should keep them in the road trip repertoire but consider adding a few upgrades. For example, University Games offers a twist on travel bingo for $7 called Travel Scavenger Hunt, which consists of a pack of cards. Individuals or teams work to discover all the items on the card. The game works on the road or even in an airport because there are special “hear it,” “feel it,” and “smell it” categories. The game is rated for ages 7 and above, so it should work for the entire family. We teamed up older with younger players and even had 3-year-olds shouting out discoveries.

Loaded Questions on the Go by All Things Equal sells for $12. This is a great game for the road, the hotel room and on the plane. Again, it’s a pack of cards with four small pencils where one person chooses a question off the card (“What’s your best ability?”) and everyone else writes their answer on a sheet. Someone reads the answers and the person who chose the question has to guess who gave each answer. You can keep score, but we never did. It was more fun to see what answers came up, who was attributed to that answer, and why. Answers and reactions usually result in some good laughs. The driver can participate but needs “shotgun” to fill out the answer.

My favorite road trip go-to is Mad Libs. Each pad is around $4 and has dozens of games. Besides teaching some basic English grammar, the fill-in games provide some major laughs. You can rotate who controls the pad and fills in the answers. We reserved nouns and verbs for the youngest kids as those are easier to think of.

There are also several options for quiet singular play. The newest option is adult coloring books. These provide far more complex drawings to color in than regular coloring books. You can keep several levels on hand plus a box or two of colored pencils to keep everyone entertained. I shy away from crayons because they tend to melt in the heat of a car parked long hours in a tournament lot. Crayola sells a box of 50 sharpened colored pencils for $13.50. A small pencil sharpener will set you back less than $2. Some great options for kids are Harry Potter coloring books by Hot Topics for $16.50 and Creative Haven Country Scenes for $4. Dover Press makes smaller coloring books for kids that are the size of a small paperback and sell for $2. Pepin Press has books of tile cards that are 5x6 inches, printed on thick cardboard, and come in a variety of tile designs (Barcelona, Art Noveau, Dutch), which sell for $13.

If coloring isn’t their thing, there’s a fun puzzle by Smethport called Magnetic Doodle Balls for $5. It’s a covered grid board around which kids move and drop iron balls using a magnetic wand. They can make any number of designs and pictures. The board is the size of a regular magazine, but be sure to keep track of the wand which has a storage spot on the board.

University Games created Spot the Difference Travel Game where cards come in a tin. The cards have two pictures and players need to find the differences between the two. Kids can play alone or you can time players to see how many differences they find in 60 seconds. Every smartphone has a stop watch, which is what we used rather than dealing with egg timers.

On the route or once you reach your destination, there are three terrific options that help kids learn something about where they are visiting. National Geographic Kids has the Ultimate U.S. Road Trip Atlas for $6. The book provides interesting facts about the areas through which you travel, unusual roadside attractions, historical markers, and viewpoints along with maps and some games.

If you have AAA membership, there’s still that wonderful Triptik that they created with paper inserts and now create online. There’s a AAA mobile app that allows you to place your Triptik on a smartphone or a tablet. Each Triptik highlights restaurants, charging stations for electric cars, gas stations, various attractions and historical sites, and side trips along your route. Kids can follow along, pick a place to eat lunch, find a spot to take a break, and figure out how much longer the trip will take.

Once you get to your destination, Idea Box Kids has a wonderful tool for making everyone’s trip fun. Called the Adventure Box, it contains dozen of Family Fun Day coins that kids can choose from the box. Each coin details an adventure to find in your new town such as A Cupcake or Donut Shop or A Zoo. It sells for $18. They also offer an Airplane Box for kids with coins that suggest things like How Long Can You Balance a Snack on Your Nose and Go on a Little Walk, which sells for $9.

You can also create some games fairly easily. I always print off alphabetical lists of states that the kids can cross off as they find license plates. Tournament parking lots can be a gold mine for completing the list keeping all the non-soccer family members busy during warm-ups. A small bag of coins can create a fun guessing game. Kids take out some coins and hide them in their hands. Everyone guesses how much total money is being held. Closest guesser gets to hide the next coins. We also play the distance game when you can see far enough ahead to the horizon. Everyone guesses how far it is to some landmark (a rock, a tree, a structure, or the crest of a hill), then watch the odometer, and the person closest without going over (a geographical Price is Right, I guess) wins and picks the next landmark. We also played the car game. Each person is assigned either a car model or color (easiest for younger players) and counts how many of them they find in either a certain distance or time. We kept white and black out of the color choices as those colors are plentiful.

Once you collect some games, you’ll need a place to store them while traveling. I’m a big fan of locking plastic bags. They come in a variety of sizes and keep pieces together. Some are already self-contained. Games on the Go from Continuum is a collection of 50 games in a license plate replica package of flip cards that are held together with a clip that you can attach to a purse, soccer bag, or cooler. Everything is kept together easily and conveniently. For the other games you can use Etna’s Car Seat Organizer a cube that has 10 outside mesh pockets, a cooler, and a hard top for playing or drawing on. The entire thing is portable with straps for carrying and costs $20. There are also fold down tables for seat backs from Car Gadgets that have a flat table surface and three pockets for storage. We wore ours out, and they proved helpful for everything from eating on the fly, to setting up DVD players, to being a drawing surface, to being a lap top/tablet table. These are only $11.50 each, so it’s not unreasonable to buy two of them or even more for that minivan.

Activities for road trips should be compact, have few small parts that can get lost, and be fun for all ages in the car. These few suggestions fit those parameters, but are certainly only some of the options available. All of these can be purchased through the manufacturers, but Amazon also carries all of them at often reduced prices and with free shipping if you are a Prime member. Most are also available through Wal-Mart and Barnes and Noble. You can do a search to see where you might find them cheaper. We kept our games in a half file box that had cut-outs for handles and a lid found in any office supply store. The boys decorated it with dozens of soccer logos and stickers and that box saw us through over a decade of travel. It was easy to transfer it into other vehicles if the boys were traveling with friends and from the car into the hotel room. Players would ask if the boys had the box because they knew it contained some fun time wasters. We put two decks of playing cards in the box and a set of die just to be prepared for some downtime. Eventually we had to create a second box as the boys began playing in separate parts of the country, but the overall cost was not that high to duplicate the best games and worth the expense as the games were well-used. As exciting as soccer can be, there will always be long lapses of boring waits and miles of traveling in order to participate. Finding some great distractions can fill the empty stretches with fun.

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Chemistry

Sam Snow

There’s an old song by The Who called “The Kids Are Alright.” The paper below titled Chemistry proves that the song tile still rings true. It was written by a high school sophomore. Her team has undergone some changes this year, and while the players have reacted positively, some of the parents have been unable to show positive encouragement and support for their children now that they are in a more holistic learning environment. One that emphasizes learning and development over winning at all costs. After a recent training session, her coach saw her carrying a schoolbook along with her backpack, and along the spine of the book was "Chemistry." He asked her if she had the time, would she write a small piece about her team’s chemistry and what, if any, problems she saw with it and how she would solve those problems by incorporating "Chemistry". When she read it to her teammates they absolutely loved it, as did her coach.

 

Chemistry

Chemistry, a branch of science that studies the composition and properties of matter and the changes it undergoes. When one juxtaposes chemistry and a soccer team, the two end up being quite similar. In chemistry, there are millions of particles that make up a cell; on a similar note, within a soccer team there are multiple players and layers that make up a team. One may believe that my soccer team may be going through a phase change, considering the team used to be something that was so solid but now has “melted”. A scientific explanation of this phenomenon may be as tensions rise within the parents, “heat/steam is given off” which has caused the team to diminish or melt. In order for a chemical reaction to work productively and efficiently, the goal of a soccer team, everybody must be on the same page. If one thing is off, the chemical reaction will not proceed because it is not at equilibrium. To make the team/reaction run smoothly again, temperatures may need to be dropped among the parents and tensions must cease to exist. I believe the team needs to return back to its solid phase in which it has a defined shape and all the particles/players are in strict order. Currently I believe the team is in a liquefied state where the particles are not compact and seem distanced. If the team can find a way to return back to its original solid state then I believe that we will be successful, yet again.

In soccer, as well as chemistry, bonds are broken. Bonds in soccer are broken when friendships, teams and trust in one another diminishes. In chemistry, bonds are literally broken amongst molecules. When breaking up a bond, energy needs to be put back into the compound. It seems to me as if everyone on the team, players and parents, have lost sight of what really is important (just enjoying the game), and have put in so much excess energy in the wrong direction, which in turn has caused bonds to break within the team. If there are hopes of rekindling these broken bonds, everyone needs to make a joint effort to use their energy in a positive way to help redirect the direction of the team. If we all work cohesively as a single unit, stable covalent bonds will be formed among the team and we will soon be a functioning compound.

On a non-scientific note, in order to help change the direction this team is going, we must:

  • Put our differences aside and play like a team on the field
  • Make an improved effort of getting to know each other individually
  • Forget about drama among the parents and turn the negative energy from the parents into positive energy for the game
  • We all must come ready to play at every game; we cannot pick and choose when we want to play
  • At practice, we need to stay focused because what we do at practice will translate to the game
  • Everyone must make their best effort to attend every practice because if people are continuously not coming, this will throw off team chemistry because you will not know what we have been learning at practice

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What’s Happening?

Susan Boyd

Last week was not a good one for U.S. men’s soccer. The U.S. U-23 Men’s National Team lost on Tuesday to Colombia, which gave the last Olympic slot to the winner — leaving the U.S. out in the cold and unable to qualify a men’s team in back-to-back Olympics for the first time in 50 years. The USMNT likewise stumbled in Guatemala the previous Friday in a dismal 2-0 loss, setting back their bid for a 2018 World Cup slot. Luckily, they rallied when the two teams met again in Columbus, Ohio, to beat Guatemala, 4-0, righting a ship that was in danger of capsizing. Once again, the tenuous abilities of U.S. men’s teams to compete on the world stage signals the weaknesses in our development and support.

The U-23 MNT that played Columbia is made up of young players most of whom haven’t yet reached the USMNT’s main roster. However, the 2016 Olympic qualifying rules state that men’s team players must be born on or after January 1, 1993, although teams can field three older players during the Olympics. The women’s side has no age restrictions. The age limits do restrict the team the U.S. can field, but all countries operate under the same guidelines. On the USMNT, only three players would fit the Olympic age restrictions, so the U.S. must depend on up-and-coming younger players closer in age to many of our own youth players than to the seasoned players on the USMNT. Even though other countries operate under the same rules, they seem to be able to develop stronger players at the younger ages than we in the U.S. do.

Most development programs around the world have a very intensive training regimen. Here in America, development of youth players is often done by volunteer and school coaches. This volunteer environment proves to be uneven in how our players are developed. In England, for example, the country shifted from volunteer and school coaching to professional team development teams. The Football Association approved allowing pro teams to have a financial interest in players U-9 and above, signing the player to an actual one year contract. The player can leave the club at any time at the end of each year, but if he joins another club, the new club must pay a transfer fee to the original club. At U-13, clubs can sign players for two- or four-year contracts, and at U-17, the club must sign the player to a two-year contract or release the player. Clubs invest around $3-to-5 million per year in their development program. They only need to “sell” a good player every few years (at usually $10 million plus) or an exceptional player (at $50 million) to not only recoup these costs but add to their bottom line. Development season runs September to August and players must adhere to strict rules on personal care, diet, exercise and training.

Such a program would be difficult in the United States. Our MLS teams are scattered around the country, and we don’t even have one in every state, much less one in every city of 150,000 or more like England does. Therefore, players would have to travel great distances or be boarded in order to participate in the development programs. Right now American players might train six to 10 hours a week, whereas the players in England train every day with school arranged around the training, logging at least twice the training time each week as our youth players. The question is would we willingly allow teams to sign players to contracts at the age of 8, train them, either release them or sell them, sacrificing major portions of their education and the educational experiences of youth (such as playing for their high school or doing 3v3 tournaments) in return for stronger youth development? It’s a tangled symbiotic relationship between professionalism and youth soccer that we may not be ready to accept. However, it may be the only way we can ensure enough talent to compete at the younger ages around the world.

We have to figure out if our national pride is worth such extremes. Countries such as Mexico, Argentina, and Germany follow much the same development program as England, and they started decades ago. The soccer fever is strong enough in those countries that parents want their sons trained at the highest levels with the possibility of becoming an elite player. England also implemented a development program for girls with similar guidelines as their boys’ program, and the USSF announced the formation of a Girls’ Development Academy to begin next year. So the world recognizes the benefits of including women in the process. If we want as intensive a plan in the United States we have to be willing to give into a completely different model of training that can take into account the vast distances and remote areas of the U.S., while also changing our attitude about education vs. sports.

Turning our attention to the U.S. Women’s National Team, something extraordinary is happening there. This week, five members of the team filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging severe pay inequality between the WNT members and the MNT members. In support of their claim, the women’s attorney points out some really enlightening facts. Women players earn 24 percent to 60 percent less than their male counterparts, those payments coming from the USSF. When the women approached their governing body year after year they were dismissed with the patronizing phrase that they should “consider it an honor to represent your country.” The truth is that the WNT has been far more lucrative than the MNT. Last year, they generated $16 million for the USSF while the MNT accrued a $2 million deficit. The women are paid almost four times less than the men. For example both teams are required to play 20 friendlies per year. The top women receive $72,000 for the total of those games plus a bonus of $1,350 if they win. Men are guaranteed $5,000 and up to $17,625 per game depending on the opponent’s FIFA rank. Even if the top women won all their games, then men earning only the base salary of $5,000 and losing all their games would still make $1000 more than their female counterparts. The women have won three straight Olympic gold medals, while the men failed to qualify for a second consecutive time. The women have three World Cup victories, including last year’s title, while the men finished 11th in the 2014 World Cup and have never made it past the quarterfinals. Last year’s Women’s World Cup final was the highest watched soccer game ever in the United States, equaling the 23 million viewers of Game 7 of the World Series. Abby Wambach, who recently retired, has more international goals than any other soccer player, female OR male. If we remove gender from the equation, it’s difficult to argue that the players on the successful team don’t deserve at least the same if not more pay than the players on the other team. As of my writing, the USSF has not responded to the complaint other than to say they “are disappointed by the filing,” arguing that they have helped establish a women’s professional league where women can pursue more income — a bit of an apples and oranges scenario. This will be a landmark case, not just for women’s sports, but for all women employees who will have a clear precedent to argue for equal pay. No disappointment there.

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