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Christen Press: Why to root for Spain at World Cup amid controversy

Spanish players Eva Navarro, Jennifer Hermoso, Alexia Putellas and Irene Guerrero celebrate their team’s 2-1 win over Japan in the World Cup quarterfinals. (Maja Hitij/FIFA via Getty Images)

Rooting for Spain at the 2023 World Cup can be complicated, as U.S. women’s national team players turned World Cup podcast hosts Christen Press and Tobin Heath admitted.

Last September, 15 Spanish players were left off the national team roster amid a dispute with the federation, one which remains unresolved. The players did not want to compete under head coach Jorge Vilda, who has remained with the team through the World Cup. While three of those players returned to the national team for the tournament, others remained off the team, including FC Barcelona stars Patri Guijarro, Mapi León and Sandra Paños.

“It will really piss me off not to go to the World Cup but my values come first,” León said in March.

So Spain has been left with a “complicated” dynamic as the team makes its first-ever World Cup semifinal appearance, as Press and Heath discussed on the latest episode of “The RE-CAP Show.”

“You’ve got this mix of some of their most important players [who] have now come back into the squad and then there’s all these new players that kind of took the place of the traditional 11,” Press said. “So you’ve got this weird dynamic and when I’m looking at the energy I see so much pride in Spain. I saw so many tears from my friends on the Spanish side.”

Both Press and Heath understand the tough position that creates for World Cup fans, with many wanting to support Spain but feeling uncertain over Vilda’s continued presence.

“I think for us fans it’s a little bit complicated too,” Heath said. “I think Spain is another team that it’s loved in football in terms of the way they play and the way that they’ve developed another part of what was missing I think in the women’s game. But it’s complicated, right?”

Someone tell Heath that they didn’t “feel good” rooting for Spain, which essentially meant rooting for the success of the coach. But for those who still want the players themselves to find success, the position leads to internal conflict.

“I think that the hope is that the more success the team has, the bigger voice and the more respect that they get from their country,” Press said. “I think that they deal with a lot of sexism in Spain. I think that in the course of our careers, it has gone from a federation that had absolutely no regard for their women’s program — they didn’t even qualify for World Cups, they weren’t even there — and now they’re winning Ballon d’Ors and they have established a league that can compete in the Champions League. It’s just transformed so quickly.”

The club experience in Spain is transforming, Press has heard from players, but the national team experience has lagged behind. It’s an interesting reversal from what U.S. players experienced, with their national team setting the precedent for club play in the country.

“Ultimately I will always root for the players on the field,” Press continued, “and I will hope that their success, their greatness, their beautiful performances, their goals – I hope the whole country can get behind them and I hope that it will help them get a voice. That’s sort of what you want to celebrate in sport is this idea that you can play for these these changes.

“They shouldn’t have to. They should be heard and listened to and respected the first time that they say something if someone’s talking about an unfriendly unhealthy environment, I don’t need to hear anything more.”

“There is no place for abuse in in women’s football any kind of it there’s no place for it,” Heath added. “It’s not okay, winning does not make abuse okay. And I wish that these players win so they get the platforms and the ability to really change the culture and the narrative that’s going on there because they all deserve better.”

Even still, Press remains behind both the players who chose to play within the system in hopes of changing it and those that opted not to play and put their personal well-being and values above the World Cup. To her, “there’s no wrong decision” from the players.

“I think when I see how much pride these players have, being in their first semi-final how complicated it is,” she said. “All those tears knowing that their play has driven the sport forward and driven the respect for women in their country in such a profound way, I know there it’s a really really hard thing to to process and to understand and we’re we’re with the players we’re rooting for them. Team Spain all the way.”

Team Canada’s Olympic Drone Controversy Explained

Team Canada with their flag at the 2024 Concacaf Women's Gold Cup
Team Canada faces repercussions after flying a drone over New Zealand's practice session. (Logan Riely/Getty Images)

The 2024 Paris Games haven't even officially begun, yet the Olympic soccer tournament has already been rocked by a controversy spurred by defending gold medalists Canada.

New Zealand lodged a formal complaint to the IOC on Tuesday, alleging that a Team Canada support staff member spied on their training session in Saint-Étienne using drone surveillance. 

In response, the Canadian Olympic Committee immediately confirmed the incident and apologized, promising to conduct an "independent external review."

Local police saw the drone and arrested "Non-accredited analyst" Joseph Lombardi on Monday, charging him with "flying an unmanned aircraft over a prohibited area." He has since pleaded guilty and accepted a suspended eight-month prison sentence in addition to a €45,000 fine.

Team Canada has since dismissed Lombardi, sending him along with his direct supervisor Jasmine Mandor home from the Games and officially removing the pair from the team.

CanWNT head coach Bev Priestman looks up during a match.
Head coach Bev Priestman has removed herself from Canada's Olympic opener against New Zealand. (Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Canada boss Priestman to miss opening match

Canada head coach Bev Priestman accepted the decision to sit out her squad's Olympic group stage opener against New Zealand on Thursday.

"On behalf of our entire team, I first and foremost want to apologize to the players and staff at New Zealand Football and to the players on Team Canada," Priestman said in a statement.

"I am ultimately responsible for conduct in our program. Accordingly, to emphasize our team’s commitment to integrity, I have decided to voluntarily withdraw from coaching the match on Thursday," Priestman added. "In the spirit of accountability, I do this with the interests of both teams in mind and to ensure everyone feels that the sportsmanship of this game is upheld."

New Zealand has also reportedly asked FIFA that to bar Canada from earning any points in the opening match, regardless of the outcome.

USA Basketball Bounces Back in Final Olympic Tune-Up

Team USA celebrates their exhibition win over Germany on Tuesday
Team USA will meet Germany again in the Olympic group stage.(Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Team USA definitively bounced back from their WNBA All-Star Game defeat on Tuesday, routing Germany 84-57 at the USA Basketball Showcase in London.

A'ja Wilson put up 19 points and 14 rebounds in the win, leading the team ahead of Breanna Stewart's 15 points. Wilson is now averaging 16.5 points per game for the US, tying Team WNBA All-Star coach Cheryl Miller for the highest in team history.

Napheesa Collier of Team USA at the USA vs. Germany basketball showcase in London
Napheesa Collier returned to the court for Team USA on Tuesday. (Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Team USA raises their game

Team USA is still building chemistry after spending a little more than one week as a unit, shoring up vulnerabilities highlighted in their weekend loss to Team WNBA.

The team looked more cohesive in London, with Napheesa Collier returning to the starting lineup after missing a number of weeks with a plantar fascia injury. They also saw quality performances off the bench, with Jewell Loyd scoring in double digits and both Alyssa Thomas and Jackie Young keeping head coach Cheryl Reeve's rotations steady.

Returning to Europe for the first time since her 2022 wrongful detainment in Russia, Brittney Griner did not feature for the US due to load management.

For Germany, Dallas Wings star Satou Sabally took the court for the first time since the team's February Olympic qualifier, playing 26 minutes as Germany prepares for their Olympic debut in Paris.

"It was a breath of fresh air to get out of All-Star and come here," Sabrina Ionescu told reporters after the London Showcase. "There's one goal and it's to win." 

Breanna Stewart lays up the ball in Team USA's win over Germany on Tuesday
Breanna Stewart and Team USA begin their Olympic campaign against Japan on July 29th. (Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

All eyes are on gold

USA Basketball seems to be improving by the day, but the short runway to Paris could present a challenge for Reeve and her staff as the team looks to grow throughout the tournament — and hopefully hit their stride in time for the medal rounds.

"It's a tune-up game," Stewart said on Tuesday. "We don't want to peak too soon."

What's next for Team USA?

The US will start their Olympic group stage campaign with a game against Japan on July 29th, before playing a blockbuster August 1st matchup against a strong Belgium side. They'll later face Germany once again in their August 4th Olympic group stage finale.

1v1 With Kelley O’Hara: What Has Emily Sonnett Learned From Past USWNTs?

Emily Sonnett chats with her former USWNT teammate Kelley O'Hara
Emily Sonnett joins host Kelley O'Hara for a conversation about the upcoming Paris Olympics in the latest episode of '1v1.' (Just Women's Sports)

In the latest episode of Just Women's Sports' 1v1 With Kelley O'Hara, Gotham FC and USWNT defender Emily Sonnett joins Olympic gold medalist and retired USWNT star Kelley O'Hara for a one-on-one conversation about the upcoming Paris Olympics.

We hear from Sonnett about her first impressions of new USWNT coach Emma Hayes, her international competition journey so far, and what advice from past USWNT players she's planning to take into the 2024 Summer Games.

Subscribe to Just Women's Sports on YouTube to never miss an episode.

The Late Sub Podcast: Can the USWNT Medal?

The USWNT takes a silly face photo during their team Olympic photo shoot
The USWNT will begin their 2024 Olympic medal hunt on Thursday. (Brad Smith/ISI/Getty Images).

This week, JWS podcast host Claire Watkins discusses WNBA All-Star Weekend, which felt both like a celebration of the league's explosive growth over the past year and a way to set Team USA up for a particularly competitive Summer Olympics.

Later, Watkins previews the field for the upcoming Olympic soccer tournament, nominating her personal "Group of Death" and discussing whether or not the new-era USWNT could still reach medal contention despite their current rebuild under new head coach Emma Hayes.

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