The USA closes out its two-game European tour on Tuesday when it meets Spain for the first time in women's action at the Estadio Jose Rico Perez, home of Hercules, in Alicante.
Spain's women's national team program officially dates back to the early 1980s, before
the U.S. women's national team was even formed, but it was only recently that the Spanish federation started taking women's soccer seriously and clubs like Barcelona and Atletico Madrid have followed
Huge strides since 2015. Spain did not win a game in its first appearance in the Women's World Cup four years ago,
but it has made huge strides since then.
At the youth level, Spain won the 2018 Under-17 Women's World Cup and finished second to Japan at the 2018 Under-20 Women's World Cup. At the
senior level, it won the 2017 Algarve Cup and 2018 Cyprus Cup, the two biggest European spring tournaments, and reached the quarterfinals at Euro 2017.
Spain qualified for the 2019
Women's World Cup with eight wins in eight games, and with the USA's 3-1 loss to France on Saturday, its 15-game unbeaten streak is the longest active streak in the world.
NWSL connection. The majority of the Spanish team plays for Atletico Madrid and Barcelona, first and second in the Liga Iberdrola, but it has three
foreign-based players: Irene Paredes (Paris SG) and Virginia Torrecilla (Montpellier), who play in France, and Celia Jimenez, who recently signed with the NWSL's Seattle Reign.
Jimenez was drafted out of the University of Alabama in 2018 but elected to stay in Tuscaloosa to finish up her degree in aerospace engineering, played for the WPSL champion Seattle Sounders
Women in the summer and spent the fall in Sweden with Rosengard.
(Spanish star Vero Boquete, who will play for the Utah Royals in 2019, hasn't been called up to the national team
since before Euro 2017 and doesn't expect to be called back for the World Cup.)
Gap narrows. Spain has a young team. At 27,
midfielder Vicky Losada, who played for the Western New York Flash in 2014. was the oldest player in Spain's starting lineup when it tied Belgium, 1-1, in a friendly on Thursday. It was missing
its biggest star, 20-year-old Barcelona midfielder Patricia Guijarro, who is injured.
But for all the progress being made in Spanish women's soccer -- Barcelona and Atletico Madrid
have attracted some of the top foreign stars in women's soccer -- Spain head coach Jorge Vilda says a lot of work remains to be done for Spain to challenge the United States, noting his country
has only 40,000 registered women's players, a fraction of the U.S. pool of talent.
"We only need time," he said at Monday's press conference. "The distance is getting smaller, but there
is a lot of work in that race to be among the best."
Spain Roster: GOALKEEPERS (3): Lola Gallardo (Atletico
Madrid), Sandra Panos (Barcelona), Sun Quiñones (Real Sociedad). DEFENDERS (8): Ivana Andres (Levante), Marta Carro (Valencia Feminas), Celia Jimenez (Seattle Reign), Mapi Leon
(Barcelona), Leila Ouahabi (Barcelona), Andrea Pereira (Barcelona), Irene Paredes (Paris SG, France), Marta Torrejon (Barcelona). MIDFIELDERS (8): Aitana Bonmati (Barcelona), Marta
Corredera (Levante), Vicky Losada (Barcelona), Silvia Meseguer (Atletico Madrid), Andrea Sanchez Falcon (Atletico Madrid), Amanda Sampedro (Atletico Madrid), Ángela Sosa (Atletico Madrid),
Virginia Torrecilla (Montpellier, France). FORWARDS (6): Mariona Caldentey (Barcelona), Lucia Garcia (Athletic Club), Nahikari Garcia (Real Sociedad), Jenni Hermoso (Atletico Madrid),
Alexia Putellas (Barcelona), Alba Redondo (Fundacion Albacete).