The world's best player won't be at the Women's World Cup but the world's best team will be, with both sides taking a stand for equality.
The U.S. national team, ranked No. 1 globally, will try to defend its title in soccer's premier tournament, which kicks off Friday in Paris. While the Americans make their way around France for the monthlong event, back at home they're all part of a lawsuit that accuses U.S. Soccer of gender discrimination.
Meanwhile, Ada Hegerberg , the first female Ballon d'Or winner for the world's top player, won't be accompanying Norway's national team. She stepped away in 2017 because of what she perceives to be a general disregard for women's soccer by the country's federation. The crux of her frustration is the uneven pace of progress and strategy in the women's game.
Hegerberg, 23, is at the top of her game. She had a hat trick for Lyon in its 4-1 win over Barcelona in the recent Women's Champions League final. In domestic games, she has 211 goals in 208 games.
"We are happy for this debate to raise attention and respect for women's soccer in the world, and I do view it as a big change-maker." said Lise Klaveness, sporting director for the Norwegian Football Federation, "But I just wish she was in our team."
The U.S. team hopes to collectively be a difference-maker, too.
Twenty-eight members of the current player pool filed the lawsuit on March 8 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, alleging "institutionalized gender discrimination" that includes inequitable compensation when compared with their counterparts on the men's national team.
Because the lawsuit is still in the early stages, it's likely no significant movement will be made until the team returns home.
Megan Rapinoe was asked whether the pay issue puts more pressure on the team — which will already be facing a strong field looking to topple the three-time World Cup winners.
"I think that the huge media splash of the lawsuit is behind us and we're obviously focused on the World Cup," Rapinoe said. "But also it's like this is our life, and there are a lot of things that we have to grapple and deal with: Family, friends, partners, media, pressures, games, World Cup, travel. So it's just kind of just one more thing. This team always has a lot of media attention, and we've always had a lot of things on our plate so it's not like it's anything new, or all of a sudden we're getting all the more attention. It's sort of the same for us."
The 24-team tournament will be played at nine stadiums across France over the course of the next month, with the final set for July 7 in Lyon.
THE LAST TIME: The United States won the last World Cup in 2015. Carli Lloyd scored three goals in the first 16 minutes to help give the Americans a 5-2 victory over Japan for their third overall World Cup title, most for any nation since the tournament was introduced in 1991. England was a surprising third-place finisher in Canada.
VAR: In March, FIFA approved the use of video review for the World Cup in France. The Video Assistant Referee system, or VAR, was used at the men's World Cup in Russia last year.
PRIZE MONEY: The prize money for the World Cup will be $30 million, of which $4 million will go to the federation of the champion. While the total is double the prize money for the 2015 Women's World Cup, it is a fraction of the $400 million in prize money for last year's men's World Cup, of which $38 million went to champion France. FIFA, soccer's international governing body, says prize money for the 2022 men's World Cup will be $440 million.
TICKET FIASCO: Some fans who ordered tickets to World Cup matches were surprised last month when they discovered their seats were not together. The issue was especially problematic for families bringing young children. After an outcry on social media, FIFA said it would work with the local organizing committee to resolve the issues .
Some fans recently reported tickets that had been delivered electronically were no longer available, with the message: "FIFA and the LOC are currently working on improving the seating arrangements for certain orders for a limited number of matches. If your order is affected, please expect to receive a dedicated communication shortly."
TOO MANY TOURNAMENTS: FIFA has also been criticized for scheduling the World Cup final on the same day as the Copa America final in Rio and the CONCACAF Gold Cup final in Chicago. U.S. coach Jill Ellis pointedly said: "In my own personal opinion, playing three big matches in one day isn't supporting the women's game. So, there you go."