REIMS, France — Spain, the U.S.’s opponent on Monday in the Women's World Cup round of 16 (12 p.m. ET; FS1, Telemundo), is one of the emerging nations in global women’s soccer. Famous clubs Barcelona and Atlético Madrid have embraced the women’s game, and just this week Spanish reports suggested Real Madrid will be buying a team in the Spanish women’s top flight, at long last launching a women's team under its umbrella.
Point being: If you’re picking a winner of the 2027 Women's World Cup, you might not be wrong to go with Spain.
But if you’re talking about 2019? That’s a tougher ask. The U.S. is a heavy favorite in Monday’s elimination game, where the winner will advance to face host France–an extra-time survivor vs. Brazil–in the quarterfinals. It doesn't hurt that the Americans got a chance to scout their opponent extensively in January when they beat Spain 1-0 in an away friendly, thanks to an impressive Christen Press goal after a 50-yard dribble.
— U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) January 22, 2019
“I thought it was critical we played Spain,” said U.S. coach Jill Ellis on Sunday. “We didn’t have a history with them, to know a team, to get on the field with them … I pushed hard to get that game, because I think it was important for us.”
From a news perspective, Ellis said that U.S. stars Alex Morgan and Julie Ertz were both “fine” and available for the Spain game after the former was subbed off at halftime with a knock and the latter held out completely as a precaution with a hip injury. The question remains that if all the U.S. players are healthy, who will start in the midfield? Will Sam Mewis find a way to continue starting? And if so, how would the rest of the lineup make room for her? One possibility might involve Ertz moving back to the central defense and allowing space for Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle and Mewis in the midfield. But at this point, who knows?
A heat wave is entering France, and it’s expected that the temperature will be near 90 degrees at kickoff on Monday. Another wrinkle is that Spain will have had six full days of rest between games and the U.S. will have had three days based on how the schedule was constructed, to which Ellis said: “I don’t build a tournament, so to be fair I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the ins and outs of how it’s structured. Yeah, it’s sometimes a big discrepancy, but … when you enter a tournament as one of the last teams to play, there’s going to be certain differences in the windows. It is what it is.”
On the Spanish side, there was—as we have seen at several moments during this tournament—an admiration from their players toward the U.S. team. As Spain’s Marta Torrejón said on Sunday, “Soccer in America is an example for all of us in every sense of the word. In terms of the media coverage they get in terms of the … financial support they have there. And they’ve also got big female stars and little kids and little girls in the U.S. can look up to them.
“I think it’s a model for all of us,” Torrejón continued. “If we had stars like they have in the U.S., if people could look up to us, to get to that stage we know we have a long journey ahead of us. But we’re happy to take on that challenge and try to emulate it.”
There’s a feeling in the women’s game that several traditional soccer countries on the men’s side—Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, England—are finally starting to invest on the women’s side, and the U.S. will be under extreme pressure in the coming years to keep up with them.
“There are a lot of programs, a lot of teams now, that have the backing of federations,” said Ellis. “To have a professional league is critical, and to have a culture that embraces soccer. You see this with Holland, you see this with Italy. It’s a matter of time.”
But will that time come on Monday when Spain meets the U.S.? Perhaps not. Spain has been a bit underwhelming in this tournament after going perfect in Women's World Cup qualifying, struggling to finish its chances. To beat the mighty Americans will require a monster effort–one that may be there a few years down the line.