Fans of Alex Morgan were confused to spot the American soccer team’s star striker on the bench during the USNWT’s second World Cup match against Chile. But according to US head coach Jill Ellis, there’s a very good reason behind the surprise substitution.
Yesterday’s match was no exception, with the US cruising past Chile 3-0 to increase their points total to six, with two outstanding goals from Carli Lloyd helping the team move one step closer in their quest to win their fourth World Cup title.
But if you were on the lookout for star striker Alex Morgan, however, you might have been left a little confused as to why she was left on the subs bench, alongside big kickers Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath. This is, after all, the same Morgan who scored five incredible goals in the epic takedown of Thailand in the first USWNT’s match, and is the current favourite to win the Golden Boot for the World Cup.
The answer, according to US head coach Jill Ellis, was tactical. Following the team’s victory, she explained that she wanted all her players to get a fair shot at spending time on the pitch, which sounds like solid management. But beyond that, she needs her star players in peak condition for when the competition really begins to get tough.
“We need them,” she told USA Today. “We need them in a good place. If they can have minutes and their butterflies are out of the way, it helps us down the line.”
With the US set to face Sweden in a pivotal third match on Thursday, allowing the key USWNT players some much-needed rest in their second match of group play could be a move that pays off in a big way for the knockouts.
Morgan’s skills on the pitch aren’t the only reason she’s been making headlines recently. On International Women’s Day earlier in March, Morgan and her 27 teammates on the US women’s soccer team filed a lawsuit against the sport’s official governing body.
The lawsuit alleged that US Soccer is guilty of “institutionalised gender discrimination” against women, something that manifests in the way female players are treated in comparison to their male counterparts both on and off the field.
That includes their transport to and from games, their medical treatment and, crucially, how much they are paid. According to the lawsuit, some of the women’s soccer stars are paid just 38% of what the men are paid.
“Eventually, you just have to take a stand,” Morgan told TIME magazine in May. “How come we’ve had to fight this whole time, year after year?”
This, despite the fact that the US women’s soccer team are ranked number one in the world, with four Olympic gold medals and three World Cup championships to their name. (The men’s team have two Olympic gold medals and their best World Cup result is third place, back in 1930.)
Not to mention the fact that the women’s squad brought in $20 million in revenue to US Soccer in 2016, while the men not only didn’t generate any revenue but actually lost $2 million for the organising body.
The discrimination lawsuit comes at a crucial time for the women’s soccer team, who are currently training in the lead up to defending their World Championship title at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Morgan, the group’s star forward and co-captain, is part of the squad heading to France hoping for another victory. (Hope Solo, former goalkeeper, won’t be, because she refuses to play for an organisation that does not offer pay parity.)
Morgan hopes that the team’s lawsuit will shine a light on the importance of fighting pay inequality in all industries.
“So many women have reached out to us,” Morgan told InStyle. “Serena Williams came out in support of our efforts, which was amazing. I also have lots of friends who are male athletes who have texted me to say ‘How can I support what you are doing? What can I do to help?’”
She continued: “It’s been powerful and inspiring for me to see so many women outside of sports stand up for themselves, too… I know it can be scary and intimidating, but if you feel in your gut that it’s the right thing to do, then go for it. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there like that and ask for what you deserve.”
“But I always say you have to take a big risk to get a big reward. And just know that the narrative is changing. It’s amazing to see the progress that has been made, but there is still so much work to do.”
Pay inequality is only one of the subjects on which Morgan, recently named one of TIME magazine’s most influential people, is vocal on. Here are Morgan’s best lessons on how to be empowered:
On dreaming big
“I had a dream that I wrote down on a yellow sticky note when I was seven years old. It said ‘Dear mom, my dream is to be a professional soccer player. Love, Ali.’ My mom kept that for years. At the time there wasn’t even a professional league and I had never even seen the women’s national team play. So I never even thought about a Plan B…” – Reuters
On speaking up
“To force a change sometimes you need to stand up. You know what you’re worth – rather than what your employer is paying you. We’re not scared. To move the women’s game ahead we need to do what’s necessary.” – Guardian
On why it’s important for young girls to play sport
“I look back on my youth and what I was able to learn from sport and the confidence I was able to get from it. The character traits that I was able to learn from having to work towards a greater goal than just my selfish needs. It was important for me at a young age. Both education and sport are so important for young girls. Just to give them their own identity and to help their self-confidence.” – Forbes
On prioritising self-care
“I love to meditate, I love to spend time with my dog, take him to the dog park – it’s honestly like baby’s day out. I like to hang my boots up every now and then and even though I like to get away from the sport, I still just really enjoy the sport from a fan level. I’ll always watch the current games on TV.” – Hypebae
On why women athletes have to work harder than male athletes
“We have to do more in general–we have to be the athlete, we have to be the role model, we have to lead the way for the next generation. Are male athletes doing that? Are they thinking about anyone other than themselves? I don’t know. We do have more than one job within this role, and are getting paid much less.” – TIME
On how soccer changed her life
“I owe everything I have in my life to a number of things. My parents. My teammates. The great coaches I had growing up. My work ethic. But when it comes down to it, I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for one thing. A soccer ball.” – The Player’s Tribune