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Soccer

Mapi León Is One Of A Kind

Spain's defender Maria Leon clears the ball during the UEFA Women's Euro 2022 Group B football match between Spain and Finland at Stadium MK in Milton Keynes, north of London on July 8, 2022.
Damien Meyer/AFP via Getty Images

If ever you find yourself watching a professional, competitive soccer match and you see a center back take a corner kick, you can be sure that you are either seeing a one-off stunt of some sort or you are looking at Mapi León, a Spanish defender with a left foot so preposterously accurate that she is empowered and expected to do things almost literally no other player at her position is allowed to.

León, one of the crucial figures in the Barcelona women’s team that has captured the imagination of the sport in a way arguably no other club has before, is currently flexing her very particular set of skills at the Women’s Euros. Spain entered the tournament as one of the big favorites, though La Roja‘s chances took a major hit when Alexia Putellas, León’s club teammate and an extraterrestrial talent in her own right, suffered a serious knee injury just before the tournament began. Absent Alexia—Spain’s captain, star, and the best women’s soccer player on the planet—Spain will need big-time performances from players like León if they expect to still compete for the title.

Luckily for the Spaniards, León looks up for the challenge. On Friday, during Spain’s opening match of the Euros against Finland, the heavily tattooed defender was the best player on the pitch and helped Spain come back from a first-minute 0–1 deficit to earn a comprehensive 4–1 victory. As is often the case, León was her team’s most effective passer. Her ability to drive the ball up the pitch, cut through multiple opposition lines with a single forward pass, and launch the ball all across the pitch with her trademark switches of play were the engines behind the majority of Spain’s possessions. She connected on 103 of her 113 passes, the most in the match. She created six chances, the most in the match, many coming from her consistently dangerous corner kick deliveries. She directly assisted two of Spain’s goals with a pair of stunning crosses, the first from a position on the pitch and with a technique hardly any other defender in the world, man or woman, could mimic—

—and the second from, appropriately, a set piece:

The way she opens up her instep and contorts her left foot, almost fashioning it into one of those comically angled lob wedges in golf, the power and accuracy she manages from the resulting strike, even the positions she gets herself into before taking her swings—I have to say it again: absolutely nobody plays like this, not at that position. Mapi León is crazy. And at the Euros, she’s just getting started.

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