- The Washington Times - Monday, July 22, 2019

LANDOVER — The U.S. women’s national soccer team won the World Cup two weeks ago, but its players want you to know that their competitive season is far from over.

The Washington Spirit’s Rose Lavelle and Mallory Pugh are among the many participating players who have returned from the World Cup — and the ensuing celebrations — to finish the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season. Lavelle, Pugh and their peers hope that they can parlay their attention-grabbing World Cup win into more interest in the NWSL.

With their lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation demanding pay equal to the men’s team, which is headed toward mediation, the players are also confident they can advance an agenda of equality.

“Not even just the U.S. team, but a lot of World Cup teams were kind of pushing the boundaries and pushing the status quo,” Lavelle said. “I think it’s past the point of a conversation. We deserve equal pay. It’s as simple as that.”

Lavelle argued that the team’s complaints are about more than just individual players wanting to earn more.

“It’s not just about paying us. I think it’s about funding across the board with everything,” she said. “FIFA putting more money into the women’s game, federations putting more money into the women’s game and the youth teams. I think there’s a lot of different areas that need to improve just beyond pay.”

Lavelle, 24, scored three goals in the World Cup, including the tournament’s final goal — a swift break through the Dutch defense and a well-placed shot that solidified the U.S.’s 2-0 win over Netherlands in the final. Pugh, 21, made three appearances for the U.S. and scored one goal.

Three Australians — Chloe Logarzo, Amy Harrison and Elise Kellond-Knight — and Jamaica’s Cheyna Matthews also played in the World Cup before returning to the Spirit.

“I couldn’t name a country that isn’t happy and glad to see what the Americans are doing,” Kellond-Knight said. “Collectively we’re in to support it and we’re going to make a stance against (inequality).”

Some results of that fight are already taking shape. Budweiser became an official sponsor of the NWSL right after the World Cup ended. The league had entered the season without a broadcast deal — but then ESPN struck a deal to carry the remainder of the 2019 season on its networks.

“I think any exposure we can get is wonderful,” Pugh said. “I think it has been frustrating that sometimes you turn on ESPN and there’s like — cornhole, or cricket.”

Harrison and Logarzo are both playing in their first seasons in the NWSL. Although the league does not have a big profile in the U.S., the Australians said the NWSL is “prestigious” and “a powerhouse league” that’s set a good example for women’s soccer around the world.

“You know (when) you’re coming here, you’re getting world quality everywhere,” Harrison said. “Everyone across the park is world-class. The facilities and the standing are just so much higher than back home, and it’s something we’re trying to grow. Like I said, it’s really special to be here and it’s definitely held in a really high regard back home.”

No player mentioned President Trump by name Monday, but Pugh and Lavelle said the possibility of a White House invitation was not on their minds while they focus on their NWSL jobs.

“That’s maybe something we talk about down the road,” Pugh said.

Their national team teammate, Megan Rapinoe, said during the World Cup that she would not visit Trump at the White House if invited. She added after the final that she was sure “not many, if any, of the other players” would attend.

In the meantime, the Spirit will focus on qualifying for the NWSL playoffs. The 5-4-3 Spirit, in fifth place out of nine teams, trained at FedEx Field Monday and will travel to New Jersey to play Sky Blue FC on Wednesday.

Spirit captain Andi Sullivan, who did not play in the World Cup, expressed optimism that the World Cup built momentum that the NWSL can sustain.

“In the NWSL it’s almost been frustrating, because it’s like you have those same players that you saw in the World Cup — they’re all here,” she said. “Not all of them, but the large majority are here. So it’s kind of like, why are people not engaging with it? And I think because of the Word Cup, the entirety of it was so competitive and it improved so much that I think the engagement will stay.”

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