For the first time in five years, the U.S. women’s national team has lost two consecutive matches. England, fresh off its victory at the Euros this summer, beat the U.S. 2–1 on Friday, and on Tuesday Spain beat the U.S. 2–0. It was Spain’s first time beating the USWNT, a win Spain’s coach Jorge Vilda hailed as “a historic day for Spanish football.”
Both the U.S. and Spain were without many of their top players. Americans Kelley O’Hara, Sam Mewis, Julie Ertz, Alex Morgan, Mallory Pugh, Emily Fox, Tierna Davidson, and all-around star Catarina Macario were absent from the squad due to injuries and other commitments, leaving veterans like Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Lindsey Horan to lead the way. The pair of friendlies were also played just days after the U.S. deputy attorney general published the findings of an investigation into sexual misconduct and verbal abuse in the National Women’s Soccer League, which employs many of the USWNT players.
Spain’s team meanwhile is roiled by a power struggle between the players and the Spanish soccer federation. Many of Spain’s top players asked not to be selected for a call-up to the national team in protest of what they say is the team’s unprofessional environment and the Spanish soccer federation’s refusal to address their concerns about team leadership. As a result, at least 15 players sat out the pair of friendlies, citing deteriorating mental and emotional health stemming from Vilda’s poor management of the team. It was the latest escalation in the war between the players and Spain’s soccer federation, which has, so far, resolutely backed Vilda.
“We want a firm commitment towards a professional project in which all aspects are taken care of to get the best performances out of a group of players who we consider can achieve more and better objectives,” the players said in statement last month. “By asking not to be selected, we penalize our professional career, our economic situation and of course continuing to build something important in women’s football. Because having reached where we are now cost years of effort for lots of people.”
Against the U.S., Spain’s reserve team acquitted themselves well. (An illustration of just how reserve the team was: Seven of the starters against the USWNT have fewer than 10 career appearances for Spain, and only two of the starting XI got on the field at this summer’s Euros.) Laia Codina, who plays for Barcelona, scored off a set piece in the first half. Ester Gonzalez, who plays for Real Madrid, doubled Spain’s lead in the 72nd minute with this rocket of a volley.
Given the USWNT’s depleted roster and mental baggage surrounding the matches, the losses don’t necessarily portend doom for the U.S., which is still a dominant force in international women’s soccer. On the other hand, the USWNT losing 2–0 to a Spain’s B-team suggests a shrinking of the USWNT’s margin in the sport—a shrinking that needs to be taken seriously before the World Cup next year. As USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski said Monday, every player on the roster earned their spot.
“There’s no excuse with the team that we have, because I think we have incredible players,” he said.
Next up for the USWNT is a pair of friendlies against Germany on Nov. 10 and Nov. 13.