RISCO, Texas — The increasingly bitter dispute between American women’s national soccer team and the U.S. Soccer Federation spilled onto the field Wednesday night when players wore their warm-up jerseys inside out in an apparent protest before their 3-1 victory over Japan.
Players filed a gender discrimination suit against the USSF last year, a case scheduled for trial starting May 5 in federal court in Los Angeles. The USSF submitted legal papers this week claiming that the women are less skilled and have less-demanding roles than the men on its national team.
By wearing their jerseys inside out, players hid the USSF crest on the jerseys but allowed the four stars — one for each World Cup title — to be visible.
The victory gave the U.S. the title in the SheBelieves Cup, a prep tournament for this year’s Olympics. Late in the second half, USSF president Carlos Cordeiro issued an apology and announced a shakeup to the federation’s legal team.
“On behalf of U.S. Soccer, I sincerely apologize for the offense and pain caused by language in this week’s court filing, which did not reflect the values of our federation or our tremendous admiration of our women’s national team,” Cordeiro said in a statement. “Our WNT players are incredibly talented and work tirelessly, as they have demonstrated time and again from their Olympic gold medals to their World Cup titles.”
Cordeiro said the USSF asked Latham & Watkins “to join and guide our legal strategy going forward.” Seyfarth Shaw had been representing the federation; Latham is the firm where former USSF president Alan Rothenberg is a retired partner.
“I have made it clear to our legal team that even as we debate facts and figures in the course of this case, we must do so with the utmost respect not only for our women’s national team players but for all female athletes around the world,” Cordeiro said.
The Coca-Cola Co., a longtime sponsor of the team, issued a statement this week saying it it found legal the arguments “unacceptable and offensive.” The team’s supporters’ group, the American Outlaws, also criticized the federation.
Following the apparent protest, many of the team’s fans on Twitter changed their profile pictures to a blank crest with four stars.
In the documents filed Monday, the USSF maintained: “A reasonable juror could conclude that the job of MNT player requires materially different skill and more responsibility than plaintiffs’ job does, while also taking place under materially different working conditions.”
Molly Levinson, a spokeswoman for the players in the lawsuit, called the assertion sexist.
The women are seeking more than $66 million in damages under the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and a trial is scheduled for May 5.
Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press and Lindsey Horan scored for the U.S., which extended its unbeaten streak to 31 matches. In the doubleheader opener, Spain defeated England 1-0.
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Rapinoe scored on a free kick in the seventh minute, and Press extended the lead with a chip shot from atop the penalty in the 26th minute. Press has scored in nine of 10 games since Vlatko Andonovski replaced Jill Ellis as coach after last year’s World Cup title.
After Mana Iwabuchi cut the deficit in 58th minute, Horan scored on a header in the 83rd.