U.S. Soccer chief apologizes for 'offense and pain' as USWNT protests

Even as they were earning their third SheBelieves Cup title on the field Wednesday, U.S. women's national team players also won an apology from the president of their own federation in the midst of their ongoing wage discrimination lawsuit.

In a statement released in the closing minutes of a 3-1 win for the U.S. against Japan at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro apologized for language used in legal filings earlier this week on behalf of the federation in the lawsuit brought last year by players.

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"On behalf of U.S. Soccer, I sincerely apologize for the offense and pain caused by language in this week's court filing, which did not reflect the values of our Federation or our tremendous admiration of our Women's National Team," Cordeiro said in the statement. "Our WNT players are incredibly talented and work tirelessly, as they have demonstrated time and again from their Olympic Gold medals to their World Cup titles."

In its response filed Monday to an earlier motion for summary judgment from the plaintiffs, the federation's legal representatives repeatedly attempted to make the case that women's and men's players do not perform equal work. The lengthy motion argued, among other things, that men's players are superior physically and shoulder greater responsibility because international men's soccer is more competitive and offers more revenue-generating tournaments. As a result, the filing contended, the players should not qualify for relief under the Equal Pay Act or Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The language, which was similar in tone and substance to that in the federation's motion for summary judgment filed last month, was widely criticized as suggesting the women were inherently inferior.

Cordeiro went on to say in Wednesday's statement that the federation would add new legal counsel in the firm of Latham and Watkins to "join and guide our legal strategy going forward." The statement did not address in what capacity the firm of Seyfarth Shaw, whose name appears on Monday's filings, would remain involved in the proceedings.

"I have made it clear to our legal team that even as we debate facts and figures in the course of this case," Cordeiro's statement continued, "We must do so with the utmost respect not only for our Women's National Team players but for all female athletes around the world. As we do, we will continue to work to resolve this suit in the best interest of everyone involved."

U.S. players wore their warm-up shirts inside out, hiding the U.S. Soccer crest, in protest before Wednesday's finale in the SheBelieves Cup. Several players also expressed frustration with Cordeiro after Sunday's game against Spain, which was played on International Women's Day. He released a letter to federation members the previous night in which he alleged the players would not meet with the federation despite what he termed offers of an equal pay structure for men and women in games U.S. Soccer controlled.

A spokesperson for the players contested the equality of any such offers, saying they were based on an outdated model for the men's team and failed to address a number of issues.

After Wednesday's game, Megan Rapinoe spoke about player frustration.

"The team was very upset, obviously," Rapinoe said. "We have sort of felt that those are some of the undercurrent feelings that they've had for a long time, but to see that as the argument -- sort of blatant misogyny and sexism as the argument against us is really disappointing.

"I just want to say it's all false. To every girl out there, to every boy out there, who watches this team, who wants to be on this team or just wants to live their dream out, you are not lesser just because you are a girl. You are not better just because you are a boy. We are all created equal and should have the equal opportunity to go out and pursue our dreams."

USSF vice president Cindy Cone condemned the filings on Thursday via Twitter, saying: "I am hurt and saddened by the brief USSF filed. This issue means so much to me, but more broadly to all men & women and, more importantly, to little girls & boys who are our future. I disavow the troubling statements and will continue to work to forge a better path forward."

The trial is scheduled to begin May 5.