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Women’s national team and U.S. Soccer intensify talks

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Talks between the U.S. women’s national team players and the U.S. Soccer Federation intensified over the weekend in the ongoing effort to reach a deal on a new contract.

The latest negotiations come on the heels of an agreement between USA Hockey and its women’s national team for better compensation following a threat by players to boycott the world championships. The Irish women’s national soccer team also said it would skip an upcoming international match in a labor dispute.

“There is no question that women athletes around the world are sending a strong message,” said Molly Levinson, spokeswoman for the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association. “They are demanding fairness and equality and they are changing the game for the future.”

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The 2015 Women’s World Cup champions have been without a contract since Dec. 31. Talks were stalled when the players parted ways in late December with attorney Rich Nichols, who had been executive director of the USWNTPA since late 2014.

The players’ association has met numerous times with U.S. Soccer since the union brought in a new executive director and legal representation earlier this year.

The terms of the previous collective bargaining agreement remain in place unless either side files a 60-day notice of termination. Neither side has filed.

The latest negotiations come a year after a group of players filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that alleged wage discrimination by the federation. The players maintained male national team counterparts earned far more than they did in many cases.

Becky Sauerbrunn, Meghan Klingenberg and Christen Press were elected player representatives at the team’s January training camp. In February, Sauerbrunn expressed hope that a deal could be struck before the National Women’s Soccer league opens play this month.

U.S. Soccer pays the salaries of national team players in the NWSL and the terms are spelled out in the CBA with the federation.

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“I think the tone is really positive at this point,” midfielder Megan Rapinoe said earlier this year. “I think that we’re excited to collaborate with U.S. Soccer and hopefully get the best deal, not only for us but for them as well in this partnership going forward. I think we’re still very committed to the mission and the goals that we’ve had from the beginning for this CBA, and that’s to get a deal that fairly reflects the work we do on and off the field and our value on the market.”

The USSF has maintained that much of the pay disparity between the men’s and women’s teams results from separate collective bargaining agreements.

The women’s team had set up its compensation structure, which included a guaranteed salary rather than a pay-for-play model like the men, in the last labor contract. The players also earn salaries – paid by the federation – for playing in the NWSL.

The women receive other benefits, including health care, that the men’s national team players don’t receive, the federation has maintained.

The players’ EEOC complaint is still pending. On the anniversary of the filing last week, Rapinoe went to social media to both mark the occasion and support her hockey counterparts.

She posted: “On the 1 yr anniversary of the EEOC filing, we send best wishes to (hash)USWNT hockey in their (hash)2017WWC. Let’s (hash)changethegame (hash)beboldforchange.”

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Last week, just days before hosting the world championships, USA Hockey and the women’s national team reached an agreement to end their wage dispute and avoid a boycott on home ice.

The push for better wages and conditions extended Tuesday, which marked Equal Pay Day, to Ireland, where women’s national team players have threatened to boycott a match on Monday against Slovakia.

The players say they’re not compensated fairly by the Football Association of Ireland for the time they have to take off work to compete. They also want to be paid for matches and would like their own team apparel – something they currently share with youth players.

Kane scores early and late, England narrowly top Tunisia

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England’s 2018 World Cup debut began brilliantly, then appeared headed for a disappointingly familiar outcome, but was ultimately saved by Harry Kane who scored both goals in the Three Lions’ 2-1 victory over Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday.

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England came sprinting out of the starting blocks — so quickly they nearly took flight — and taking an early lead through Harry Kane in the 11th minute (WATCH HERE). John Stones‘ header was spectacularly saved by Mouez Hassen, but Kane was in the right place at the right time and swept home the rebound for his first World Cup goal (on his World Cup debut).

The opening half-hour was all England, with the likes of Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling cutting through the Tunisian midfield and defense with very little resistance and creating a half-dozen golden scoring chances. Unfortunately for Gareth Southgate‘s side, they couldn’t capitalize, and they were made to pay for it.

Kyle Walker caught Fakhreddine Ben Youssef with a raised arm as an innocuous cross came into the box, prompting referee Wilmar Roldan to blow his whistle and point to the penalty spot immediately. Ferjani Sassi stepped up and converted, just out of reach of Jordan Pickford, who perhaps got a fingertip on the ball (WATCH HERE), to make it 1-1 and negate an otherwise dominant first-half performance by England. It would be Tunisia’s only shot on goal for the game.

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England’s best chance to re-establish a lead came during a six-yard-box scramble just seconds before halftime. Alli’s header hit the crossbar and Stones badly scuffed — nearly whiffed — on the follow-up. Kane was dragged to the ground during the rest of the commotion, to no interest of Roldan.

It took far longer than anyone back home in England would have liked, but Kane grabbed the winner in the 91st minute, heading home from acres of space at the back post. Jordan Henderson got the first crack at heading the corner kick, but it was blocked and bound high into the air. Somehow, some way, Kane was unmarked and snuck his redirect just inside the post.

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Up next for England is a meeting with Panama on Sunday, a day after Tunisia take on Belgium, who thrashed the Panamanians, 3-0, on Monday.

VIDEO: Tunisia equalizes on controversial penalty kick

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England centerback Kyle Walker put his arm up to halt the forward progress of Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. Unfortunately for Walker, Ben Youssef was in the box and Walker’s elbow caught Ben Youssef’s face.

Referee Wilmar Roldan quickly whistled for a penalty kick and despite the protests from a half-dozen of England players and a check from the VAR, the called stood. Ferjani Sassi’stepped up to the spot and found the lower-left corner, just barely beating Jordan Pickford to tie the game in the 35th minute.

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How will England respond?

VIDEO: Captain Kane puts England on the board early

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It may be the easiest goal-scoring opportunity Harry Kane‘s ever had in an international competition, and he finished it as easy as you’d like.

Kane side-footed home after Tunisia goalkeeper Mouez Hassen made a terrific save on John Stone’s header off a corner, but the save was directed right into a wide-open Kane who was standing ready inside the six yard box. The 11th minute goal will surely settle some of the Three Lions’ nerves as they open their World Cup bid in Russia.

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After slow start, Belgium takes care of business against feisty Panama

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All it took was one goal to bring Belgium to life.

Following a frustrating first 45 minutes, in which Belgium put a pair of shots into the side netting and forced saves from Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, Dries Mertens 47th minute goal opened the floodgates, as Belgium went on to defeat Panama, 3-0, Monday afternoon in Sochi.

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But Panama never made it easy for the Belgians. From the opening whistle the CONCACAF nation showed its incredible spirit, chasing down Belgium all across the field and making life incredibly difficult for Belgium attackers Romelu Lukaku, Mertens and Eden Hazard. Hazard was hacked down all over the field, and while he did earn fouls and a few yellow cards were issued to Panamanian players, it was enough to get in Hazard’s head.

Two minutes into the second half, everything changed. A wonderstrike from Mertens opened the game, and forced Panama to attack and try and tie the match, which gave Hazard, de Bruyne and Lukaku more space to operate.

In the heat and humidity of the Sochi summer, Panama’s veteran defense began to tire, allowing de Bruyne the space to deliver a terrific assist to Lukaku in the box, putting Belgium up 2-0 in the 69th minute.

 

Six minutes later, Lukaku was put through on the break, chipping over Penedo to confirm the victory.

With the win, Belgium moves to the top of Group G. Up next for Belgium is Tunisia on Saturday, while Panama takes on England on Sunday.