Canada wore purple T-shirts with the phrase “enough is enough” to protest against their national association before their 2-0 loss to the USA in the SheBelieves Cup in Orlando, Florida.
The team, in dispute with Canada Soccer because of concerns over funding cuts and a lack of pay equality, were joined by the USA in a huddle before kick-off.
Earlier in the week, the Olympic champions called off strike action.
Canada captain Christine Sinclair said her team were “mentally exhausted”.
“Either we’re fighting for everything and come out on fire or we come out flat. And I think you saw those first 10, 15 minutes, we came out flat,” Sinclair added.
“I think we looked like a team that was tired, coming up against a team… I mean, they’re defending World Cup champions for a reason and you have to be at your best to compete with them. And we weren’t tonight.”
Before the match, the Canadian Soccer Players Association said the team would “continue to wear purple until our association has standards in place that ensure equal treatment and opportunity”.
Both teams wore purple tape on their wrists during the game.
Canada, who are sixth in the world rankings and won Olympic gold in 2021, called off a strike because of threats of legal action by the Canada Soccer Association (CSA) and said they would play in the four-team SheBelieves Cup tournament “in protest”.
They have threatened to boycott a team camp in April if their demands are not met.
The CSA says it has a “proven track record” of supporting women’s football, adding pay equality was “at the core” of negotiations with the national team players.
Mallory Swanson scored both goals for the USA in the first half in front of 14,697 fans at Orlando’s Exploria Stadium.
Canada head coach Bev Priestman said the team have to “push through” for the rest of the tournament, with Canada playing Brazil on Sunday and Japan next Wednesday.
“I couldn’t fault their effort,” said Priestman. “You could just see a flatness to them.”
Priestman added that there was a job to try to maintain team morale heading towards the Women’s World Cup, which takes place from 20 July to 20 August in Australia and New Zealand.
“This isn’t fixed overnight,” she added. “So we’ve got to push through. We’ve got to turn it around now and be fresh-faced and be ready to go again for game two. Because there’s probably five games before a World Cup right now. That’s the difficult position we’re in.
“It’s difficult. I’m exhausted, they’re exhausted. But we have to find a way. These things can be the reason this team wins a World Cup. These moments make you. Adversity makes you.”
Canada’s protest was not the only stand taken by players at the game as they advocated for transgender rights in a state that has legislated against them.
Both sets of players wore tape around their wrists with the words “defend trans joy” on it.
New legislation in Floridaexternal-link will ban transgender health care treatments for under-18s. In 2021, the state banned transgender girls and women from participating in female sports at public schools and colleges.
The final round of SheBelieves Cup matches will be played in Texas, a state that has also enacted laws aimed at transgender athletes.
USA forward Alex Morgan, who was honoured before kick-off for recently passing 200 international appearances, has previously said the team should consider not playing in statesexternal-link that bring in such legislation.
She said: “Looking at these games in Florida and Texas respectively, we’re going to need to continue to step it up, and have internal discussions as well with the team, because we’re not ones to shy away from hard conversations or taking a stand for what’s right.”
Brazil’s Marta, having recovered from an anterior cruciate knee ligament injury sustained last March, returned for their 1-0 win over Japan in the other game in the cup.
The 36-year-old was a 68th-minute replacement and grabbed an assist for Debinha’s goal.