USWNT players support Spain women's team amid messy battle with federation, coach

REIMS, FRANCE - JUNE 24: Patricia Guijarro #12 of Spain is marked by Alex Morgan #13 of the United States during a 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Round of 16 match between Spain and the United States at Stade Auguste-Delaune on June 24, 2019 in Reims, France.  (Photo by John Todd/ Images).

Becky Sauerbrunn and Alex Morgan, two of the United States' most prominent soccer stars, have spoken up in support of Spanish players who are engaged in a messy battle with Spain's soccer federation over unhealthy working conditions.

Fifteen members of Spain's women's national team told the federation in Thursday emails that they would decline to play for the team until conditions improve. The federation (the RFEF) responded by publicizing those emails, misrepresenting them and publicly scolding the players.

The players then responded with a statement of their own, saying that the team environment had harmed their emotional and physical health, and that they "will not tolerate" the "infantilizing tone" with which the RFEF had concluded its news release.

On Friday, Sauerbrunn, the two-time World Cup winner and president of the U.S. women's national team Players Association, amplified the Spanish players' statement on Twitter. Alluding to the questioning and belittling of their concerns by Spanish media and the RFEF, Sauerbrunn wrote: "why would a group of players, on one of the most talented teams in the world, risk their careers and reputations on unfounded, capricious complaints eight months before the [2023 Women's World Cup]?"

"I don't know the private details," Sauerbrunn continued, "but if 15 of the best players in the world wanted to share feedback I'd respect them enough as people and players to take their concerns seriously."

Those concerns, according to a Friday report from Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo, include that head coach Jorge Vilda oversees a "dictatorial" environment. He allegedly checks the players' bags after they go shopping, for instance, according to the report; and if they are going out for coffee, he demands to know who they are going with. "All movement was subject to strict surveillance," the Spanish outlet reported.

The players reportedly took their complaints to Vilda and to the RFEF weeks ago. They said in Friday's statement that they'd engaged in a private back-and-forth, and sought a "firm commitment to a professional project." When the federation refused to make such a commitment, 15 of them chose to temporarily resign from the team.

The federation, rather than responding in private, released its statement late Thursday night, and said that it would not accede to "any type of pressure" from the players. It called their resignations a "very serious infraction" that could disqualify them from national team selection for 2-5 years.

Alex Morgan, another seasoned USWNT voice, seconded Sauerbrunn's sentiment that the players' concerns should be taken seriously.

Morgan also wrote in a separate tweet: "This is so hard to watch knowing the federation is throwing their players under the bus for players asking for better protection, treatment, and professionalism.

"Players (the BEST players in Spain) deserve so much better."

The USWNT is scheduled to play against Spain on Oct. 11 in Pamplona. It's unclear if the battle between Spanish players and their federation could affect next month's game.