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Esther Scores In Spain’s 2-0 Win Over The USWNT

8 Madridistas featured and performed well.

Spain v United States - International Friendly Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

At this point, most following women’s football should be well aware of Spain’s current situation, where 15 players sent private letters to the RFEF, refusing to be called up over a situation they find damaging to their health and emotional state. The RFEF made the players’ actions public and responded forcefully. If you need the full background, you can read about it here.

Leading up to the USWNT’s friendly with Spain, Megan Rapinoe spoke about the issue numerous times and expressed her support for those who had taken the aforementioned stance.

But the Americans had more off-field problems on their mind as well, with the report from the Sally Yates investigation coming out prior to their contest vs. England. The lengthy document, which has been summarized here, described systemic abuse in the NWSL that was enabled and ignored by those in charge (and suggested that this was also the case at all levels of US soccer).

It was clearly something that weighed the US national team down as they looked to take on the European champs and it almost certainly affected them mentally as they prepared for Spain.

All of this made for a match that was rather difficult to analyze. What does one take away or not take away? It’s hard to say, but what we can do is try to accurately document what occurred on the pitch and see how that lines up with past and future evidence.

For starters, Jorge Vilda rolled out a 3-5-2 — a formation he has experimented with numerous times in the past but declined to use in the EUROs this summer. In this instance, it was no doubt a defensive move to counteract the perceived superiority of their opponent.

Real Madrid had seven of their players in the starting eleven: Misa in goal, Ivana and Rocío at CB, Olga at LB, Maite and Zornoza in midfield, and Esther up top.

Meanwhile, Vlatko Andonovski went with his typical 4-3-3, continuing the experiment of Sophia Smith as a lone striker.

The opening salvos leaned slightly in the US’s favor, but the match quickly settled into a sort of stalemate that was strange to watch. The Americans held a very high line and had their forwards match up 3v3 with Spain’s CB’s, but declined to apply any real pressure. This gave the likes of Ivana and Laia Codina plenty of time to pick out their pass.

Due to Spain’s early cautiousness and patience on the ball, the match crawled by without much happening near either goalmouth. Eventually, Vilda’s eleven began to grow in confidence and found their comfort in possession, realizing that the US were not going to rush them or make things uncomfortable. As a result, Spain began to take advantage of their fluid midfield (it was never quite clear who was the pivot, with Zornoza and Maite taking turns receiving from the CB’s) to split lines and find one of Esther or Redondo dropping.

The US did show impressive intensity on the counterpress, but that was of muted relevance considering that Spain had the majority of the ball.

In the 39th minute, Spain made their territorial superiority pay via a set-piece, with Barcelona’s Codina capitalizing on some questionable box defending.

After the break, Vlatko brought on Ashley Hatch for Trinity Rodman, moving Smith wide to the right. This did not improve the situation much, as there was little done in a broader sense to facilitate Smith’s incredibly talented skillset. It looked like she had to fashion something from nothing in order to make an impact, with the US lacking both the profiles and the scheme to exploit her properly. It’s hard not to imagine what the injured Catarina Macario could’ve done as a false nine in this game; maybe she would’ve occupied defenders and opened routes for Smith to attack on the diagonal.

What we saw from the USWNT today is far from what they usually have to offer, but their issues in settled possession are not new. Macario’s technical abilities and diverse positioning created beneficial dynamics that somewhat addressed these deficits. However, she wasn’t there and it’s clear that a new solution remains elusive.

On the flip side, Spain simply kept looking better and better, albeit without dominating. Athenea’s introduction for Redondo in the 57th minute gave her opponents another thing to think about, while cameos for Crystal Dunn, Sam Coffey, Sofia Huerta, and Ashley Sanchez were unable to flip the switch for their side (Sanchez, it must be said, did cause a degree of trouble near the end of the game).

In the 72nd minute, Esther closed the show with a ridiculous finish. The ease with which Spain could access the flank and produce a free cross was emblematic of how limp the US were on the day.

It is a performance that will leave US fans frustrated in contrast to Madridistas, who got to watch some excellent individual showings from their stars:

  • Misa was sharp in goal and made a couple of handy saves.
  • Ivana was a rock at the back, blocking shot after shot, flying in with perfectly-timed tackles, and positioning herself well. This was much more like the Blancas captain we saw in the 20/21 season, when she demonstrated that she was one of the best defenders in the league.
  • Rocío was solid and handled herself well vs. Smith. Initially, it looked like the Madrid CB would have trouble vs. the speedy attacker given the former’s lack of agility and pace, but Rocío hung on and ended up coming out on top.
  • Olga was simply spectacular and shined as her side’s main progressive outlet. She took big touches on the switch to beat pressers closing in and slalomed through the middle to put the US on the back foot.
  • Maite and Zornoza were classy in midfield, with the latter delivering the set-piece that resulted in the opening goal.
  • And then there was Esther, who had to bide her time (for all of Spain’s comfort in possession, they didn’t create loads of chances and didn’t enter the final third at will) before she could make her mark. Esther held up play respectably and attacked good spaces in the box, eventually finding the net.
  • Athenea’s minutes off the bench were probably the least noteworthy, although she was far from poor.

Regardless of the context surrounding their two defeats, the US will have to introspect about their recurring issues in possession.

For Spain, these wins will definitely act as a massive PR boost for the RFEF — who will no doubt try to put the claims of the 15 behind them — having benefitted from their country’s incredible depth of talent, which Vilda ironically ignored in the past.

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