Sydney Leroux admits she spent more money on babysitters and nannies for her children than she made last year playing for the Orlando Pride in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).
A mother of two, Leroux said it’s hard for women to be a mother and play in the top professional women’s soccer league in the United States. The NWSL Players Association estimates there are seven players with children competing in the nine-team league.
“If you’re not on the national team, you’re sitting in the back seat,” Leroux said. “I think we need to make it important that it touches everybody. What we’re doing is only affecting certain people and I think that that’s not good enough because we’re losing out on really good athletes because you can’t survive on an NWSL salary.
“People have different jobs, people’s parents are helping them and that’s not OK. This isn’t a hobby, this is our livelihood.”
Currently, there is no collective bargaining agreement in the NWSL. The league announced the 2020 salary cap is $650,000 (excluding allocation money) spread among approximately 20 players per club. This season teams are also permitted to purchase up to $300,000 from the league as allocation money that would permit a player’s salary to be greater than the league maximum. The new maximum salary is $50,000, while the minimum is $20,000; both up approximately $4,000 apiece from 2019.
NWSL players who play for the national team, though, are represented by the United States Women’s National Team Players Association (USWNTPA) and are paid by U.S. Soccer; the league announced there are 32 players in 2020 who will have their salaries paid by the U.S. Soccer Federation or Canadian Soccer Association. Currently, the 16-21 players under contract with U.S. Soccer are paid $100,000 by the federation.
Leroux, a forward, has 35 goals in 77 appearances for the USWNT, but hasn’t featured since the 2017 Tournament of Nations after helping guide the team to a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics in London and the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada.
The NWSL, founded in 2012, only acknowledged the NWSL Players Association (NWSLPA) as a legal union in November 2018. Many players, including USWNT legend Carli Lloyd, who plays for Sky Blue FC, and Leroux, have spoken out about working conditions, pay and benefits; there is no guaranteed paid maternity leave.
Leroux, who had her son Cassius in September 2016, returned to action for FC Kansas City in April 2017. Midway through the season her husband, Dom Dwyer, was traded from Sporting KC to Orlando City SC, so Leroux had no choice but to manage as a single mother. Two years later, Leroux, who was traded to the Orlando Pride in February 2018, began preseason nearly six months pregnant. The couple welcomed their daughter, Roux, in June 2019 with Leroux returning to the field a mere three months later.
Orlando Pride teammate Alex Morgan, who recently helped the USWNT win the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, plans to play in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics at the end of July after the birth of her baby girl in April.
Hoping players don’t have to decide between motherhood or career, Leroux wants the NWSL to use the WNBA’s new CBA as a foundation for a potential model moving forward to help support its players, especially mothers.
“Look at the WNBA and how far they’ve come,” she said.
The WNBA’s ground-breaking eight-year CBA approved in January 2020 not only significantly increased pay for players, but also included enhanced travel standards, child care and support, and maternity and family benefits.
“We wanted to show we’re in this with a very player-first agenda,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said. “… Quite frankly, in five years we’ll look back and say we lifted all of women’s sports.”
The top players in the WNBA can earn in excess of $500,000 in cash compensation, while the average cash compensation for players is approximately $130,000. The new CBA also provides many benefits and opportunities for mothers and families. Players will receive their full salary while on maternity leave, an annual child care stipend of $5,000, two-bedroom apartments for players with children, and up to a $60,000 reimbursement for veteran players for costs related to adoption, surrogacy or fertility treatment.
“When I came from my time at Deloitte, which has a long history of being progressive on some of these benefits, I said these are professional athletes who are giving up 10-15 years of their careers to play and perform at the highest level,” Engelbert said. “It’s tough to be a mom in the business world, let alone be a mom who is a professional athlete. It was really important for us to have a holistic package for all of our moms.”