Making her 2022 NWSL debut wasn’t the only thing U.S. women’s national team defender Becky Sauerbrunn was celebrating on Wednesday. Just as she was ready to return to the field for the Portland Thorns following a two-month recovery from knee surgery, the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association (USWNTPA) and the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) announced a historic collective bargaining agreement Wednesday morning, guaranteeing equal pay for the men’s and women’s teams.

As USWNTPA president, Sauerbrunn has been an integral part of that journey, starting in 2016 when she and four teammates — Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo — filed a lawsuit against the USSF for gender inequity.

Now 36 years old, Sauerbrunn spent a lot of days wondering if an agreement would be reached while she was still playing.

“A lot of things had to come together and a lot of people had to work together,” Sauerbrunn said. “There were definitely days where I was wondering if it was going to happen sooner or later and luckily it happened sooner.”

The ratified CBAs, which will run through 2028, are the first in the world to include equal FIFA World Cup prize money for the men’s and women’s teams, long the sticking point in the USWNT players’ legal battle for equal pay. The teams will pool their respective bonuses from each World Cup and split it equally among them, a significant step considering how wide the gap in prize money is between the men’s and women’s tournaments.

The groundbreaking accomplishment would not have been possible without the former USWNT players who negotiated the first CBA, demanded better playing facilities and fought for gender equity throughout the last three decades. The fight started in 1995, when a group including Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers and Kristine Lilly sat out of Olympic training in protest of their pay.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without all the generations of women’s national team players that came before that decided to fight for better everything,” Sauerbrunn saud. “So much credit needs to go to them, and I hope they feel pride in what they did because we wouldn’t be here without them.”

Orlando Pride coach Amanda Cromwell was training with the national team when players boycotted training camp in 1995. She was a young player fighting for her roster spot at the time.

Cromwell and Akers, now an assistant coach with the Pride, can fully appreciate the significance of Wednesday’s announcement, knowing where the group started 27 years ago. From the sideline of the Pride’s 2-1 win over the Courage on Wednesday night, Cromwell wore her “Equal Play” shirt, which she fortuitously brought with her to North Carolina without knowing the CBA would be announced while she was there.

“I love everything about it,” Cromwell said of the agreement. “It makes sense to have that kind of pay equity. It is a dream come true for all these players and the future of our sport is very bright, and I think we’re in good hands now with U.S. Soccer and the NWSL CBA. There’s a lot of positives happening in our country and around the world with our sport, and as a former national team player, I’m very thankful for that.”

USWNT and Gotham FC midfielder Midge Purce noted the non-economical parts of the agreement, like child care and safe work environments, as setting a standard for women in any workforce.

“I think it’s game-changing,” said U.S. national team defender Abby Dahlkemper. “It’s going to affect not only women’s soccer in the U.S., but throughout the whole world and will just continue to keep driving the standard and passing the torch down, and I think it’s exciting for the future generation.”

Part of that next generation is 21-year-old Sophia Smith, who has 15 caps and four goals so far with the USWNT and will get to reap the benefits of the CBA for years to come.

On Wednesday, she was filled with nothing but gratitude.

“I don’t think we can even begin to understand the hours that went into fighting for this, the players that came before us who have dedicated their lives to fighting for equal pay for not only themselves but for us and for the next generations that will benefit from it,” she said.

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

Women’s soccer took over the globe this past week, with six tournaments in the FIFA window. Amid the chaos of flipping between channels and live streams, it was perhaps easy to forget that NWSL training camps were rolling on, despite many teams missing players on international duty.

Throughout the week, clubs brought in new staff members, players found out about the U.S. women’s national team’s equal pay settlement and teams made progress in their on-field tactics.

Rest assured, we’re here to catch you up on what you might have missed this past week in the NWSL.

Beers are on Michelle Akers

Orlando Pride coaches Amanda Cromwell and Michelle Akers, both former USWNT players, were not convinced their multitude of young players fully grasped the context of the national team’s equal pay resolution with U.S. Soccer. So, after the deal was announced on Tuesday morning, they went home to celebrate.

“Hallelujah, it’s about time,” Cromwell said.

“‘Hell yeah,’ that was my reaction,” said Akers, later adding, “Beers are on me. It’s so exciting.”

Akers, a 1991 and 1999 World Cup champion and regarded as one of the best women’s soccer players of all time, was a part of the USWNT’s initial movements in the fight for equal pay. In 1995, Akers and a group of other veteran players rejected their contracts from U.S. Soccer and sat out of the training camp leading into the 1996 Olympics.

Called into the same camp, Cromwell was one of the younger players at the time, fighting for a spot on the national team roster.

“We’re asking our fellow teammates like, ‘What do you want us to do?’” she said. “It was really scary for some of us like, ‘What do we do in this situation? How do we fight with you, but also maintain our position to be on this team?’”

Cromwell recalled the team agreed to respect every player’s decision, recognizing they were all on the same page about pushing for higher salaries. Having recently come across a handful of her USWNT contracts from the ’90s, Cromwell said the low numbers were “shocking.”

“It would be really interesting for people to see that,” she said.

Standing on the Pride’s training grounds in Sylvan Lake Park in Sandon, Fla., where Akers used to train with the national team, the now 56-year-old said it’s been rewarding to see how much the conditions of the locker rooms and offices have improved since she was a player.

“I’m just so excited and thrilled and have such respect for the fight of every single player, and to stick with it for so many years, especially this last group,” Akers said.

‘Players don’t work for me’

Chris Petrucelli was announced as the Chicago Red Stars’ new head coach on Friday following what Chief Business Officer Vicky Lynch said was a long and careful search process.

In the wake of multiple allegations of emotional abuse and sexual misconduct against former Red Stars coach Rory Dames, Petrucelli said he’s focused on creating a positive and supportive environment where players can feel safe and unafraid to make mistakes.

“When you talk about any organization that includes athletes, the athletes always come first,” Petrucelli said on Tuesday. “The players, for me, are more important than anything else, and I view my role as a support role. I don’t view my role as a person in a position of power or things like that. I view my role as trying to help players reach their goals, try and help the team reach their goals. I work that way.

“I work with the players. Players don’t work for me.”

After a season of reckoning in the NWSL, during which multiple coaches were ousted over accusations of abuse and the commissioner resigned, Petrucelli wants to come into 2022 with a forward-thinking mindset. He expressed his commitment to support the players “in their dreams and desires” both on and off the field.

Coming to work in the NWSL was an easy decision for Petrucelli, who won a national championship as coach of the Notre Dame women’s team and was a two-time winner of the National Coach of the Year award.

“When you sit back and talk to the players, and you see the quality of the people that you have here, I think any coach would want to come work for them,” he said.

Finding ‘current’ identity

Similar to many NWSL teams this year, the Kansas City Current are navigating preseason with a lot of new players and staff members.

Head coach Matt Potter, hired in early January, applauded the team’s veteran leadership for helping build the Current’s identity and leading the way for the younger players, seven of whom are first-timers in the NWSL.

“That type of group who have experience in the league and on these types of stages have been instrumental in allowing those new players to express themselves in a manner that they’re getting to show their talents, too,” Potter said.

The Current, who debuted as an NWSL expansion team last season and finished last in the league, have recently begun working out their big-picture tactical strategy for 2022, such as their defensive and possession structures.

“I feel that we’re making progress,” he said. “We’re trying to focus on the behavior we want to see, and in doing so, it has a great vibe to it. The camp has had a really good kind of energy, and that’s what I would applaud, but that’s been player-led for sure.”

Kristen Hamilton, 29, said the veterans were reminiscing recently about the different NWSL teams they’ve played on together, a familiarity that’s already shining through in their on-field chemistry. Before arriving in Kansas City, Hamilton was teammates with Lynn Williams, Sam Mewis and Hailie Mace on the North Carolina Courage from 2017-21, and before that with Kristen Edmonds on the Western New York Flash.

“We’ve been pretty comfortable with everyone gelling together,” Hamilton said.

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

The Orlando Pride have hired Amanda Cromwell as their next head coach, the club announced Tuesday.

The news was first reported by The Equalizer in late November.

Cromwell joins the Pride from UCLA, where she led the Bruins for the past nine years. During her tenure, the team won the 2013 national championship – her first season at the helm – and made three College Cup appearances.

“We are excited to welcome Amanda Cromwell as the new head coach of the Orlando Pride,” said Mark Wilf, owner and chairman of the Pride, in a release. “After a comprehensive search process, Amanda’s tremendous accomplishments and experience as a head coach for one of the most respected women’s college soccer programs in the country stood out. We are fortunate to be able to bring Amanda’s track record of success in developing national, professional, and collegiate standouts, and her commitment and passion for the game of women’s soccer to our Club. We are confident Amanda will be a terrific leader for the Pride moving forward.”

Cromwell has spent 25 years in the collegiate ranks, compiling a 356-126-44 record. She coached 20 Bruins players to NWSL Draft selection, including Orlando Pride 2021 First Round pick Viviana Villacorta.

“I am grateful to the Wilf family and the entire Orlando Pride organization to have the opportunity as the next head coach of the Orlando Pride,” Cromwell said. “I am thrilled to lead this tremendous group of players and be part of a world-class club. The NWSL is a natural transition for me at this point in my career and I am excited to return to the Central Florida soccer community. At the same time, I am thankful for the nine fantastic years I have spent as the head coach at UCLA, supported by my players on the field, coaches by my side, and an administration dedicated to competitive excellence. I have a heavy heart leaving the players and coaches, but I know the future is bright.”

The 51-year-old is no stranger to Orlando, having spent 14 seasons as head coach at the University of Central Florida. While there, she led the team to 11 NCAA tournament appearances as well as four Atlantic Sun Tournament championships and four conference USA regular-season titles.

This will be the first NWSL coaching job for Cromwell, who is the first coach to make the jump from the college to the NWSL since Randy Waldrum, who joined the Houston Dash in 2014 from Notre Dame.

She’s just the third head coach in Pride history after Tom Sermanni and Marc Skinner. Skinner departed the club in July to replace Casey Stoney at Manchester United.

In addition to her decorated coaching career, Cromwell was also a decorated player. She earned 55 caps with the USWNT in the ‘90s, winning a bronze medal at the 1995 Women’s World Cup and serving as an alternate for the 1996 Olympic gold medal team.

In taking the position with the Pride, Cromwell will now divest her stake in Angel City FC.