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What does the USWNT collective bargaining agreement mean for the NWSL?

With insight from former national team player and NWSL veteran McCall Zerboni, we explore what the USWNT’s historic CBA and equal pay fight means NWSL players.

SOCCER: AUG 02 Tournament of Nations - United States v Brazil
Julie Ertz celebrates her goal with teammates McCall Zerboni and Crystal Dunn in a Tournament of Nations international match between the United States and Brazil on August 2, 2018.
Photo By Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In the early morning of May 18, the U.S. Soccer Federation along with the USWNT and USMNT players associations announced a pair of historic collective bargaining agreements that achieves equal pay across both senior national teams.

You can read up here on the details of the agreement and what it means for national team players but the CBA will have far-reaching effects on soccer domestically. Specifically, it changes how the National Women’s Soccer League signs and pays its players.

But what exactly does this mean for the NWSL?

As Gotham FC general manager Yael Averbuch West pointed out in a tweet the morning of the announcement, these new CBAs are another win for women’s soccer in the United States in the past year.

In fact, 2022 marks the 10th year of the National Women’s Soccer League, and the first year where the players and the league were operating under their own hard-fought CBA agreement. In addition, the league has finally moved away from allocation, meaning that U.S. Soccer no longer subsidizes the salaries of contracted national team players. Now, players sign directly with their NWSL clubs.

As Averbuch West tweeted, players singing directly with their clubs is a significant step forward in the development of the women’s game in the States. She pointed out that due to the instability of previous leagues, like WPS and WUSA which both collapsed after three years, it would have never before been possible.

Now, the NWSL can help develop current and future national team talent and, like Averbuch West said in her tweet, “become the primary development and identification environments in a way they have never done before.”

For Gotham FC team captain and former USWNT player McCall Zerboni, finally getting to this point is incredibly exciting.

“Not to make fun of myself, but I obviously haven’t been in camp in a long, long time - but we were working on this back when I was there,” Zerboni told AllForXI. “It just goes to show how long we’ve really been at this, even a while before I was there. It’s something that should have happened a long time ago, but nonetheless, we still celebrate it. It really is just a monumental and impactful agreement.”

As Zerboni explained, the removal of base salaries that the national team was paying for allocated players creates a new model where clubs can directly sign players. This gives all players more freedom and the opportunity to be paid outside of a predetermined category, a positive direction for the league.

United States Training Session
Christen Press and McCall Zerboni arrive at the USWNT practice on August 28, 2018.
Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

“Teams can now pay players as much as they want. Whether they’re in and out of camp, whether they’re someone who’s been playing on the national team for 10 years or just started getting calls six months ago, it doesn’t matter. I think it really evens the playing field as well, which is a positive thing that increases competition and opportunity,” she explained.

USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski has recently indicated that club performance is a part of how national team call-ups are determined. As Zerboni pointed out, the USWNT CBA does not just make women equal to men but also makes players equal with their peers.

“Everything is equal [to the men] now, which is a beautiful part of the agreement, but it also elevates the [NWSL] and provides the opportunity for any player that gets called into the national team, whether it’s short term or long term, to be treated equally to their peers. Whether a player is a leading goal scorer or they’re just getting in, everybody has value.”

The USWNT CBA is the first of its kind, and as Zerboni explained, sets a new standard for soccer around the globe. “I think we’re really setting an example that will push other countries to do the same thing for their women’s team,” she said.

United States Training Session
Midfielder McCall Zerboni at a U.S. Women’s National Team practice, 2018.
Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

For the NWSL, this new USWNT CBA is a clear indication that after 10 years, the league is sustainable enough to continue on without U.S. Soccer subsidizing national team salaries. In fact, the NWSL Players Association ratified its own CBA earlier this year, also an historic agreement.

Now, a years-long fight for equal pay sees a finish line.

The world will get to see how the new CBA plays out in terms of roster selection very soon. The women’s national team heads down to Monterrey, Mexico from July 4th through the 18th to participate in the CONCACAF Championship tournament. The tournament will also determine which regional teams will participate in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the 2024 Summer Olympics.

Until then, U.S. Women’s National Team players of the present, past, and future, can celebrate this historic achievement. The weight of this moment is not lost on Zerboni.

“I really want to say thank you to all the women who came before us that really pushed the envelope. It would have never been possible without those previous generations. I also want to say thank you to the men’s side. They were a big part of collaborating with us and getting this agreement. There is big mutual respect and a lot of mutual growth,” she said, adding that this is only the the starting point of growing the women’s game. “Our mission is just getting started.”