Spain unfazed by confident, commanding USWNT: 'Who is Ali Krieger?'

Dan WetzelColumnist
Yahoo Sports

REIMS, France — In the run-up to the United States Women’s World Cup knockout stage game Monday against Spain, defender Ali Krieger reiterated just how strong she believes her team (starters and backups) is.

“We have the best team in the world, and the second-best team in the world,” Krieger said.

When Spanish midfielder Virginia Torrecilla was informed by reporters of Krieger’s comment, she offered some spice of her own.

“Who is Ali Krieger?”

So at least we have that. The top-ranked United States maintaining its high opinion of itself — and with good reason. And an up-and-coming power such as Spain not caring at all what the Americans have done, in the distant or recent past.

For Torrecilla’s benefit, she should know Krieger is a 2015 World Cup champion, part of a defense that recorded five shutouts back then and is working on three consecutive here. Torrecilla did play in that 2015 tournament, after all.

Whatever. Neither one is terribly wrong for what they said.

Whether Krieger is correct that the current U.S. side is so stacked that it could split into two 11-player squads and defeat the rest of the world is unprovable (also unlikely). It’s close enough, though, that Krieger should rightfully have full confidence in her teammates.

“At every single position, we have multiple players who can get the job done,” Krieger said. “I think there is no specific starting 11. I think each and every one of us is capable of getting into the game and being a starter. I don’t know if I could say that from previous teams. I think you can look at each and every player and no one would blink an eye if they started the game and I think that, in itself, is pretty incredible to say.”

Coach Jill Ellis (left) and the USWNT are brimming with confidence, just like their round of 16 opponent. (Associated Press)
Coach Jill Ellis (left) and the USWNT are brimming with confidence, just like their round of 16 opponent. (Associated Press)

Torrecilla, however, shouldn’t really care. At 24, she represents a young Spanish team full of the first generation of women that the country truly took seriously — and that level of seriousness is increasing. Spain always should have been great at women’s soccer. That they weren’t is indictment on their own commitment to female athletes.

Spain is coming, though. The way France and England and Germany have, and Italy is following. Pro leagues are forming. Youth academies are crossing gender lines. Money is pouring in. Just this week, Real Madrid said they were forming a women’s team.

“You see it in Spain, you see it in Italy,” said U.S. coach Jill Ellis, herself a native of England.

For Torrecilla and her teammates there is no advantage to playing nice with the Americans. If Krieger, 34, and others have led the way in telling the next generation of female athletes that they can be as bold and confident as male athletes, then why shouldn’t Torrecilla, a decade younger, do it?

Krieger has to know this stuff is coming. All of the Americans must. You can’t walk around talking about how this may be the best team ever or how the reserves could beat everyone or scoring 13 goals in a game and not expect some blowback. They don't seem to care. Good for them.

Spanish midfielder Virginia Torrecilla and her teammates don't seem to be afraid of the mighty USWNT. (Getty)
Spanish midfielder Virginia Torrecilla and her teammates don't seem to be afraid of the mighty USWNT. (Getty)

The depth of talent on the U.S. team is, indeed, astounding. The problem for the Americans is only 11 can be on the field at once, only 14 can play in a game counting substitutes and it only takes one goal to lose (if that, since a nil-nil tie can go to penalty kicks).

“I don’t think that is in any way a reflection outwardly,” Ellis said. “That is an internal feeling. So I don’t think it is a message to anyone else. The players feel good about this team and each other and where we are and where our level of play is.

“There is confidence, but this team knows, everything is earned,” Ellis added. “I like that confidence because it speaks about the confidence a player has in the players around them, about the team. I don’t think it is a comment other than speaking about ourselves. I think it’s great.”

No matter what she hopes, Ellis doesn’t get to tell the Spaniards what the message is. They’ll take it however they choose. Same for the French or English or anyone else who comes up against the uber-deep, uber-skilled and uber-confident Americans.

It was always everything or bust for the USA. Anything less than the World Cup will be a disappointment to most, if not all, of the players. And there is no lack of pent-up emotion — Monday represents the first truly meaningful game (no offense to the SheBelieves Cup) since the U.S. was knocked out of the 2016 Olympic quarterfinals.

So Krieger is building up her teammates. And Torrecilla is casting shade on her opponent and trying to knock them down a peg.

Who will be right? Who will be wrong?

Who is Ali Krieger?

Everyone should find out on Monday.

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