The U.S. Women’s National Team is Still Playing

Andy Scholes walks through US Soccer’s landmark equal pay deal for women’s professional soccer.

— — The United States women’s national team played one of the most successful, exciting seasons of all-time, with the program’s first World Cup win under the leadership of head coach Jill Ellis and the first winning season in women’s professional soccer in the United States under the leadership of longtime head coach Greg Ryan.

In the past year, the U.S. Soccer Federation changed its women’s national team program into something it is very comfortable with: a professional league. Women’s soccer, under the new umbrella of U.S. Soccer, has been growing at a steady pace since the league started in 2012, and the 2017 edition will be the team’s first season as a full professional league.

But there is a significant difference between the two leagues’ first and second seasons: the U.S. women’s national team is still playing.

“It was always an important reason why we needed to take the U.S. soccer program away from this entity,” USSF president Sunil Gulati said in a conference call last week. “It was something that was always on the table and always on the agenda: Is it possible? If you make it possible, is it necessary?”

Gulati said the answer was yes for women’s soccer in 2016. The change came largely through the work of Ryan, who spent several years working in women’s soccer around the world before moving into a role at the federation in 2014. He had long been a fan of the game and became one when he moved to the United States to work with the Chicago White Sox. He started at the University of Maryland, where he was a member of the men’s soccer program and head coach. While there, he also coached the women’s soccer program.

“My goal is to take women’s soccer from here, get the program to where it’s successful and sustainable and put out a program that is an example on the world stage,” Ryan said in a conference call last week.

The U.S. women’s national team’s first World Cup run in 2016 is what put the issue to the forefront.

When the federation began working through the option of starting women’s soccer in the United

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