BREDA, NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 26: Tobin Heath #17 of the USWNT takes a corner kick during a training session at Rat Verlegh Stadium on November 26, 2020 in Breda, Netherlands.

January may have just gotten underway, but 2021 is already shaping up to be a crucial year for the USWNT. With an Olympic contest scheduled to—hopefully—take place this summer, the women once again find themselves poised to prove their worth on the field in order to notch a win off the field in their continued fight for equal pay.

In December, the team settled with the U.S. Soccer Federation on working conditions, opening the door for them to appeal the partial summary judgement handed down by Federal Judge Gary R. Klausner this past May, which dismissed the majority of the team’s equal pay claims.

Judge Klausner’s ruling focused on the fact that the WNT and MNT separately negotiated their respective collective bargaining agreements with the USSF, which resulted in different pay structures. However, Jeffrey Kessler, the women’s team’s attorney, argued the women were discriminated against at the bargaining table based on discrepancies in how the U.S. federation treats its male and female players.

That argument will be put to the test this year as the USWNT Players Association begins negotiations on a new CBA, which will take effect when the current CBA expires on December 31, 2021. Though it’s too soon to tell, the new agreement could be used as a tool in a potential final settlement agreement between the USWNT and the U.S. Soccer Federation. And now that the team has been awarded long-overdue equal working conditions, you can expect these upcoming CBA negotiations to be focused exclusively on equal pay.

As those conversations start to take shape, the women will undoubtedly leverage their prowess on the field as they flex fresh legs in the upcoming SheBelieves Cup and steady their focus on Tokyo.

A gold medal this summer would mark the first time a women’s team has won gold in the Olympics immediately following a World Cup championship. It would also put the 2016 Olympics firmly in the rearview, after the USWNT crashed out of Rio in a disappointing quarter-finals loss to Sweden.

“We’ve got a lot to do,” Sam Mewis told Kelley O’Hara on a recent episode of the Just Women’s Sports podcast. “We’ve got a lot we want to accomplish this year. It’s business time. We’re in the office. It’s go time.”

Mewis, who was recently named the 2020 US Soccer Player of the Year, was an alternate on that 2016 Olympics squad. O’Hara started three of the team’s four games in the tournament, and has since said that losing to Sweden was a low point in her career. This summer, both Mewis and O’Hara will have a chance to rewrite the script.

But first, the USWNT will face off against #26 ranked Colombia in back-to-back matches as part of the team’s January training camp in Orlando, Florida, with the first game slated for January 18 (7pm ET on FS1). Fresh off a 2-0 win over the Netherlands in Breda, this will be the players’ first home match in 313 days, as they embark on what promises to be a consequential 2021 campaign.

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