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Allison’s Friday Favorites: Lori Lindsey climbs mountains to level the playing field

What a week it’s been for women’s soccer, and not just in the United States. American NWSL fans experienced another weekend of streaming issues, preventing some (myself included) from getting to watch what turned into the biggest upset thus far of the season as it happened or at all. Alex Morgan suffered a hamstring injury and will be unavailable for Olympique Lyonnais for today’s Coupe de France final. And the Mallory Pugh saga is over, with Pugh signing with and now officially joining the Washington Spirit–much to the disappointment of Portland, Houston, Orlando and even PSG fans.

While those may appear to be negatives, even all the above stories all have silver linings. The NWSL tweeted yesterday that all non-Lifetime matches will be streamed in the U.S. live on go90 as always, but also on the NWSL site and app for the next few weeks, presumably while the league, go90, Verizon and Vista WorldLink continue ironing out the kinks of the league’s new, rushed streaming deal. Morgan may be sidelined for the French Cup final, but she and Lyon’s trainers are working to get her back in time for the Champions League final, also against PSG. That would also see her return to the NWSL and Orlando Pride healthy, which Pride fans would surely welcome. And regardless of how you feel about the Spirit, Pugh staying stateside to play benefits the entire league, not just Washington.

So, it hasn’t been all bad this week. In fact, a lot of good has come out of this week, on and off the field. Here are two more of my favorite stories coming out of the world of WoSo this week.

Lori Lindsey climbs literal mountains to level the playing field

Lori Lindsey will climb one of the world's highest mountains and help break a world record--all for equality in women's soccer. (photo copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Lori Lindsey will climb one of the world’s highest mountains and help break a world record–all for equality in women’s soccer. (photo copyright Erica McCaulley for The Equalizer)

Some people wear temporary tattoos and t-shirts to raise awareness about inequality for women in soccer. Others launch social media campaigns or boycott important matches. Lori Lindsey? She climbs mountains.

This time next month, Lindsey will be trekking up Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Why? It’s all part of Equal Playing Field, a campaign meant to raise awareness of the inequality women around the world face while playing soccer.

[Equal Playing Field] is essentially women coming together, realizing that inequality is happening on a daily basis and asking how can we create more conversation and get this out in the public? And not just here in the United States, but globally,” Lindsey said.

The founders–Laura Youngson and Erin Blankenship–decided that climbing Mount Kilimanjaro would be an appropriate metaphor for the mountains of inequality that women in soccer face every day, so they gathered a group of players from all over the world to not only do just that.

Word of mouth gathered together a small group of committed female players from a handful of countries who felt likewise, but this soon grew to encompass not only more than 20 countries but a whole array of skills – from grassroots to two-time Olympic Gold Medal winner Lori Lindsey from the U.S.!” co-organizer Maggie Murphy, former captain of Oxford University, said via email.

Lindsey got on board just over a month ago thanks to former Virginia and USWNT teammate Angela Hucles, who knew about the project and their desire for more American players. Unable to participate herself, Hucles put Lindsey in contact with the Equal Playing Field’s organizers and, thanks to a little scheduling magic, Lindsey soon found herself getting ready to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

Although the United States is one of the most progressive nations when it comes to women’s rights, the recent #EqualPlayEqualPay campaign and CBA negotiations between the USWNT and U.S. Soccer Federation shed a light on just how unequal things are even for players here. Lindsey said that she herself has experienced that inequality firsthand at all levels of playing soccer, motivating her to join this cause.

“On the playing side, it’s more about exactly what we were fighting for with Equal Play, Equal Pay. Doing the same, if not more {as the men] and being paid less. And not even in terms of just payment, but in how we’re treated and respected.

“We’re in our fifth year of the NWSL,which is amazing, but I still think there’s a lot of stuff that needs to improve. That does all come with growth and the evolution and maturity of the league, but the last thing I want to hear as a player is a male coach telling me, ‘Be happy with what you have.’ And I heard that a couple different times and I was like, ‘Absolutely not.’”

For Lindsey, though, it’s not just about continuing to improve women’s soccer in the United States, but all over the world. She credits the players that came before her–the Julie Foudys, Mia Hamms, and Kristine Lillys–for laying a foundation that not only paved the way for the continued success of the NWSL, but for women’s soccer in general. And because of that, she feels the players here have a responsibility to help fight for and educate other countries’ federations about equality in the women’s game.

“So now I feel we have the responsibility to help globally. I think we saw that in the 2015 World Cup where you had like Thailand wearing hand-me-down uniforms and just under representation by their federations. And that’s where we need to step in and help these other federations on the women’s side and educate them on how to evolve their programs and lend our support. Because that’s just going to help us here in the United States grow, and it’s going to help the women’s game grow in general.”

For Lindsey, being a part of Equal Playing Field is one way to do that. The climb isn’t only the part of the campaign though. After reaching the summit, the expedition will play a 90-minute regulation soccer match, complete with a FIFA officiating crew, to set a new Guinness World Record for the highest-elevation soccer match played by either gender. The climb and the game will be documented by a camera crew, with short films of the event to air on BeIN Sport’s coverage of this summer’s European Championship. A full-length documentary will be released in the months following the climb.

It’s been exhilarating how quickly this project has grown showing just how our message resonates across all backgrounds and all skill sets,” Murphy said. “It’s sad but affirming that we share similar challenges – albeit some more extreme than others – whether we’re from the US, Argentina, South Africa, Jordan or Afghanistan but it has been an inspirational project to help put together with such inspirational women from all corners of the world.”

Women’s soccer fans who want to help contribute to the cause may do so by donating to Lindsey’s GoFundMe page (she’s raising the funds for her own costs as well as those of another player from a less fortunate country) or on Equal Playing Field’s fundraising page on Start Some Good. At the time of publication, they had raised over $44,000 of their $45,000 goal, but they only have until Sunday to meet their goal.

Mandy Freeman and Kayla Mills star in YouTube show

For the second year in a row, Sky Blue FC drafted what is arguably the top rookie class of the NWSL. Their first two picks, both of whom were taken in the first round, were Kayla Mills and Mandy Freeman. Not only were these two defenders National Championship-winning teammates at USC, but they’re also friends. Best friends.

Best friends who move cross country to play for the same professional soccer team, living together while adapting to their new lives as “prookies” (that’s short for pro rookies)? Sounds like the basic storyline of an NWSL-based Lifetime reality show, but unfortunately it’s not…yet. But it is the premise behind Freeman and Mills’ YouTube show, Mandy Kayla Kayla Mandy.

And it’s hilarious.

We’ve just always had opposite personalities,” said Freeman, who claims to be a quiet, independent type compared to Mills’ big personality, “so I think when other people are around us, it gets kind of funny at times ’cause they don’t really understand what’s going on–we barely understand each other half the time. And then we spoke with our agent because we have the same one, and she was like, ‘It’d be great to get you two on camera so other people can have a look into your personalities and how you guys are best friends and are now professionals and just like the whole dynamic of being in a new city with your best friend on a new team.’”

Not only does the league’s newest defensive duo provide insight into their soccer careers and the adjustment to life in New Jersey, but they also discuss turtles (Freeman has three), food, and makeup. In recent weeks they’ve also taken their show to the next level, adding games and challenges to their videos for more fun and laughter. Check out this week’s Blindfold Makeup Challenge episode (above) or their “Off Day ‘Tings” video if you don’t believe me.

And while the show is meant to be fun and lighthearted and a way for fans to get to know Freeman and Mills better, it also serves a more serious purpose.

I also think that it’s just important because we’re trying to get as many people to be into the league and buy into the league as possible and to just create more awareness about it. So maybe if they see that we’re all just normal people who just like playing soccer then they’ll want to watch us do what we love on the weekend,” Mills said. “Anything we can do to raise the number of people watching the game and get more people involved would be awesome. I think that’s what we’re trying to do for the next generation so that they don’t have to feel that playing a professional sport isn’t as awesome as it actually is.”

Being a professional soccer player is awesome, and so are these two prookies. And seriously, someone get these two a TV deal already.

Allison’s Friday Favorites will feature positive, encouraging or otherwise uplifting stories from around the world of WoSo every week. See something you think would be a good addition to Friday Favorites? Feel free to tweet it to me (@allibecc). All of the columns can be found here

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