The U.S. Women's Soccer team has been absolutely crushing it during the Women's World Cup, dominating each round of the tournament with determination, pure athletic prowess, and absolute savagery. Their record-breaking 13-0 match against Thailand set off what would be an exhilarating, and political, tournament. And with the final this Sunday, at which the U.S. will face off with the Netherlands to possibly take home their fourth World Cup title, we have to take a moment to stan these absolute beasts.
Not only is the team, to put it in simple terms, extremely good, but they've also banded together to affect real change in sports with regards to pay for women. Together, they have sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender-based pay discrimination and for denying players "equal playing, training and travel conditions;” they also noted that the federation “promotes [the women's] games less compared with the men's soccer team," per their complaint filed on March 8.
The U.S. women's soccer team is one of the most decorated national teams in the sport's history, racking up the most Women's World Cup wins of any country and a shelf full of Olympic medals, CONCACAF Gold Cups, and Algarve Cups. The U.S. men's team, by comparison, has only reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup once, in 2002, and the semi-finals once in 1930. And yet, male players far out-earn their much more successful female counterparts. When bonuses for making the national team, advancing in the World Cup, and winning the World Cup are also considered, the gap grows even bigger. The Guardian reports that the maximum potential bonus earnings for a female player during the World Cup is $260,869, while for a male player, that amount is $1,114,429.
The gender pay gap in soccer has long been a heated discussion, and this year's players have shown no fear in bringing it to global attention. Their fight will undoubtedly bring about higher accountability in sports when it comes to unequal treatment of female players and gender pay discrimination, and will hopefully secure a bag for not just women soccer players, but women playing any sport at a professional level.
At the forefront of the women's team is Megan Rapinoe, who has become the unofficial spokesperson of the team—not only thanks to her scoring five goals in the World Cup thus far, but for her outspoken remarks against Donald Trump and her activism for fair pay. She made waves a few days ago when a months-old video by soccer magazine Eight by Eight went viral for featuring Rapinoe saying, "I'm not going to the fucking White House… We're not going to be invited… I doubt it" when asked about a visit should the team win the World Cup. After Trump responded via Twitter, Rapinoe was asked about the incident at a press conference prior to their match against France. Instead of backing down, the midfielder and team co-captain doubled down, saying, “I stand by the comment that I made about not wanting to go to the White House. I don’t think that I would want to go, and I would encourage my teammates to think hard about lending that platform and having that co-opted by an administration that doesn’t feel the same way and doesn’t fight for the same things that we fight for.”
Rapinoe, an openly gay player and advocate for LGBTQ+ issues, has shown no qualms about speaking up about matters of injustice. She was one of the first white athletes, if not the first, to kneel during the National Anthem to protest police brutality against the Black community in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick; the U.S. Soccer Federation banned the gesture soon after. Since then, she has continued to peacefully protest by not singing the National Anthem at the beginning of each of her matches. While she has faced criticism of being unpatriotic, she remains committed to making this country better for all people—not just those of one color, gender, or sexual orientation.
Rapinoe isn't the only powerhouse the U.S. team has, however. Alex Morgan has also been crushing it, scoring six goals in the tournament (putting her in the running for the Golden Boot award) and showing a similar fierceness when it comes to speaking up about unfair standards. When she dared to mime sipping tea after scoring on England during their semi-final match, it sparked a conversation on respectability politics and gender in sports; while male players rip off their shirts, do the Fortnite dance, and are given nearly free reign to celebrate a goal in any way they like, women continue to face criticism for behaving similarly. Morgan was dragged for being "distasteful" and "disrespectful," highlighting the sexism that runs through the sport. Morgan later explained that the tea-sipping was in response to criticisms the U.S. women's team has faced from the U.K., including from England coach Phil Neville, who said the Americans lacked "etiquette." If that doesn't make a woman want to dunk on the England team with a spectacular goal, or maybe crush a Natty Ice in front of Buckingham Palace, then nothing could. (Rapinoe, who is nothing but supportive of her teammate, responded to the controversy by commenting: "We had the utmost respect for England and every team that we faced and every team that we will face, forever and ever… With that said, we work hard, we like to play hard, and we like to have fun and enjoy ourselves.”)
Let's not forget Alyssa Naeher's spectacular save of the penalty kick lobbed by England's Steph Houghton. Naeher stepped into the goal box in the shadow of iconic players like Hope Solo and Briana Scurry, and with that save, cemented herself as their equal.
In all, this World Cup has been riveting because every player on the team is doing more for the sport than most of their male contemporaries. They aren't just winning; they are unapologetically dominating. They aren't just talking about the social issues that affect their world; they are taking a stand for what's right for everyone who faces prejudice and inequity. They are all bark and bite—not just scoring goals, but embodying what it means to be goals. They're giving Americans the national pride and unity we've struggled to embody since the 2016 election. Plus, they get down to Crime Mob in the locker room. On Sunday, when they head into the pitch, they'll make America proud, whether they win or lose.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.