Alex Morgan says the USWNT is willing to strike – but how likely is it?

Lately it has looked like the U.S. women’s national team is less willing to play hard ball with U.S. Soccer over collective bargaining negotiations.

After all, they abruptly fired their general counsel, Rich Nichols, who took a hard line and sometime combative approach to demanding equal pay from the federation for the women. Hope Solo, who was one of the most vocal proponents of equal pay, was kicked off the team. Carli Lloyd, the team’s co-captain, has stepped away from the negotiating group, too.

But Alex Morgan, who made her debut for Olympique Lyon over the weekend, said that tough negotiation tactics — including a strike — still remain on the table.

“It’s necessary for change sometimes,” Morgan said of a possible strike to The Guardian in an in-depth interview. “It wouldn’t be the first time women decided to strike. Colombia and a couple of other countries might do the same. And Australia didn’t play us a year ago because of the same battle. We were supposed to play them in a few weeks and they decided not to get on the flight because they weren’t getting paid what they were worth – or anywhere close.”

Morgan’s referring to Australia players pulling out of a pair of post-World Cup friendlies vs. the USWNT in 2015 over pay disputes with their federation. That dispute was resolved in the months after, with some players seeing their salaries double after they had initially been paid a base salary of $21,000 in Australian dollars.

“To force a change sometimes you need to stand up,” Morgan added. “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. I feel other national teams are looking at us for that guidance.”

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The USWNT’s contract with U.S. Soccer expired on December 31 and rolled over while negotiations continue, and the players have made it clear they are demanding pay and treatment closer to that of the men’s team. Perks like per diem and first-class travel are expected to be brought in line with the treatment the men’s team receives, but pay seems to be a sticking point, especially because the pay structure between the two national teams is very different.

If the USWNT does opt to strike, it wouldn’t keep them from much other than friendlies and camps because it’s a quiet year for the USWNT in 2017. The only tournament on the schedule is one U.S. Soccer hosts, the SheBelieves Cup in March featuring France, England and Germany. Tickets for that tournament go on sale this week.

One wrinkle is how a strike would affect the National Women’s Soccer League season. After all, the USWNT players in the U.S. Soccer backed-NWSL are paid club salaries through the federation.

But players have said the NWSL would be separate from a USWNT strike, and there is at least some precedent of those portions of their contracts being treated separately. When Solo was kicked off the national team and her contract was terminated, U.S. Soccer said her NWSL contract with the Seattle Reign would remain in tact. Solo, however, opted not to play in the NWSL after her national team ouster.

For now, a strike looks unlikely in the immediate future. If the USWNT players do intend to strike, they have to file a 60-day notice, which hasn’t happened. While Morgan says that striking remains an option, there’s reason to believe the players are trying to work negotiations out without striking since the schedule this year doesn’t offer much leverage. Their change in legal counsel wasn’t explained, but it suggests they may want to take a less hard-line approach, too.

Still, the longer negotiations drag on, the more a strike seems possible — and Morgan makes it clears the players aren’t afraid to do it. The USWNT and the federation are already operating on an expired contract and it remains to be seen how much longer they are willing to do it.

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