Three weeks after five members of the U.S. Women's National Team filed a complaint against the U.S. Soccer Federation alleging that the sport's American governing body had failed to pay them equally to their male counterparts, the federation offered its most detailed response yet when it released financial documents to multiple news outlets Thursday.
Those documents, according to espnW and the New York Times, showed that the pay gap between the women and U.S. Men's National Team was much smaller than the five players had asserted in their complaint to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC: The gap was just 2.2 percent among top players, instead of the 25 percent the women players claimed.
While the women in the filing say they have earned nearly 25 percent less than their male counterparts this year, the figures supplied by the USSF show that for the 25 top-earning U.S. national team players over the past four years, 14 of whom are women, the average compensation is $695,269 for the women over that span, compared with $710,775 for the men, a difference of 2.2 percent.
In 2015, 14 of the 24 women's players earned more than $300,000 in salary plus benefits, and no one earned less than $249,000, according to federation numbers, adding that the top male player earned just more than $178,000 in salary in 2014.
"Some of the financial information that's been provided has been either inaccurate or misleading," U.S. Soccer spokesman Neil Buethe told espnW. "We wanted to share this information to help provide clarity."
But Jeffrey Kessler, the attorney for the five players who filed the claim, isn't buying U.S. Soccer's argument.
"This is complete distortion. It's comparing soccer balls to beach balls," Kessler told The Huffington Post on Thursday.
U.S. Soccer pays women who play for the national team $72,000 per year, plus a $1,350 bonus if they win a friendly match. USMNT players do not receive a base salary, but are paid through incentives for making rosters, playing in matches, and winning or drawing those matches. At minimum, the men receive $5,000 for each friendly match played, and they can earn more by winning or drawing.
To get the full salary, women are required to play at least 20 matches during a single season. U.S. Soccer pointed out in its documents that individual men rarely play that many -- none did in 2015 -- and thus rarely earn the maximum in bonuses they are eligible for, which makes the salary figures between men and women closer to equal.
But that's irrelevant, Kessler said, because if a men's national team player were called into the roster for 20 games in a single year, the minimum he would earn from the federation is $100,000, even if the USMNT lost all of those matches. A player on the women's team, meanwhile, would earn less than that -- $99,000 -- even if the USWNT won all 20 of its friendly matches in a given year.
"The legal standard is equal pay for equal work. So you look at, what does a man and a woman make for just showing up for games?" Kessler said. "What does a man get for winning a game versus the women winning the game? There is no way under the math that there is equal pay for equal work. It's insulting."
Aside from that, U.S. Soccer's calculation of salaries includes the bonuses the women earned for playing in and winning victory tour matches that followed their win at the Women's World Cup. In other words, Kessler argued, the only reason the women's salaries were as close to equal as U.S. Soccer says they are is because the women were more successful and played more matches than the men's team. Without the incentives the women earned by winning matches, the gap would have been much larger, Kessler said.
U.S. Soccer's calculations also include the cost of health and maternity benefits it provides women players but that men do not receive.
"They added benefits, they added what women got for the victory tour," Kessler said. "They loaded in everything they possibly could."
As the New York Times examined Thursday, there are other factors that complicate the equal pay dispute, including overall shares of revenues; the fact that the two teams collectively bargain separate agreements with U.S. Soccer; and that 2015 was a World Cup year for the women but not the men, which helped the women generate more revenue than the USMNT (though, as SBNation noted, U.S. Soccer made this argument on the revenue side while also relying on the women's 2015 salary numbers).
But Kessler and members of the national team who brought the complaint remain confident in their claim despite U.S. Soccer's response.
"This will not withstand more than five minutes of analysis from the EEOC," Kessler said.