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With World Cup title, Spain has built a women’s soccer powerhouse

Spain players celebrate their country’s first Women’s World Cup title with a win over England on Sunday. (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The sleeping giant of Spanish women’s soccer is awake. After World Cup wins at the U-17 and U-20 levels and ongoing dominance in European club competition, Spain has captured its first World Cup title at the senior level, with Olga Carmona’s early strike lifting La Roja to a 1-0 win over England on Sunday.

In some ways, Spain’s ascension to the top of the world stage happened very quickly. They qualified for their first Women’s World Cup for the first time in 2015, finishing last in their group with only one point to show for their efforts. They showed impressive gains in 2019, taking the eventual World Cup champions, the U.S. women’s national team, to the brink in the Round of 16.

To win the whole tournament in just three cycles is a feat, but no one can say that Spain did not lay the groundwork. Spain won their first U-17 World Cup title in 2018 and repeated the feat in 2022. Last year, they also added a U-20 World Cup win to their trophy case, taking down Japan in a preview of what will likely be many first-team battles to come. Japan defeated Spain 4-0 in the 2023 World Cup group stage and produced the Golden Boot winner in Hinata Miyazawa, before being upset in the quarterfinals by Sweden.

In two of the last three years, FC Barcelona has won the UEFA Women’s Champions League, reaching the final in three consecutive tournaments. Barcelona represents the peak of what Spain can accomplish, with a roster that feeds into the team’s chemistry at the international level. Barcelona doesn’t only benefit Spainl England starters Keira Walsh and Lucy Bronze also play their club soccer in Catalonia, adding familiarity to a final between two nations that already know each other well.

But despite all these advantages at multiple levels of the soccer pyramid, a first-ever World Cup win for Spain was never guaranteed. They came close to bowing out multiple times in this tournament, passing around the opposition without registering enough shots on target and folding mentally at times when taking the lead.

On Sunday, a combination of the right mentality and preparation came together, spurred by the winner of Best Young Player of the Tournament. Salma Paralluelo had been a force for Spain off the bench in the last two rounds, and in the final, the 19-year-old got a well-earned start. Paralluelo is a product of those Spain teams that dominated the youth levels, winning both a U-17 and a U-20 World Cup on her way to the brightest international spotlight. The Barcelona forward has an uncanny ability to cut through Spain’s frivolity on the ball, turning midfield possession and immaculate first touches into actually dangerous attacks.

Salma Paralluelo was named Best Young Player of the Tournament after Spain's World Cup win. (Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Time and time again on Sunday, Spain was able to pass around England’s disciplined press to switch the point of their attack to the open player on the weak side of the wings. Bronze and Rachel Daly had a difficult game, with the latter being subbed off at halftime in favor of keeping Spain from scoring another goal over dynamism in the attack.

But one goal turned out to be all Spain needed, in a flipped script from their elimination at the hands of England in the 2022 European Championship. Instead of becoming flustered in possession, Spain never kept their foot off the ball, continuing their methodical build-ups and keeping calm heads as England became increasingly panicked late in the second half.

While the style and flair varied — especially in an epic midfield performance from Golden Ball winner Aitana Bonmatí, Jenni Hermoso and Teresa Abelleira — Spain’s mental fortitude was reminiscent of the 2019 USWNT, who kept their same cool against Spain on their way to a fourth World Cup title.

There’s no doubt that, as a country, Spain has far deeper soccer ties than the U.S. But if Spain has a chance at building a women’s soccer dynasty, their comparisons to the USWNT might need to not stop at the final whistle. It’s no secret that Spain’s success has come at a cost, after 15 players rebelled against their manager and federation to sit out key friendlies in the lead-up to the World Cup. For players at home like Mapi Leon and Patricia Guijarro, who stuck to their principles in the face of immense pressure to return to the fold, this win will likely always have an asterisk.

Spain’s football federation will likely see this World Cup win as justification for their loyalty to manager Jorge Vilda, while the fight for recognition and better resources has only just begun for the players who were able to weave gold out of a tense situation. Succeeding in spite of managerial mediocrity is a longtime legacy in women’s soccer, especially with a player pool as deep as Spain’s. But at some point, federation dysfunction will dampen what has the opportunity to be a new era in the women’s game.

Because if there’s one other lesson that can be learned from the U.S., it’s that all the groundwork in the world can be undermined by complacency at the federation level, and there will never be another tournament where a world power can cruise their way to the trophy. In fact, it’s possible that the era of dynasties is already over, even if Spain’s has just begun.

No matter the management, the main takeaway from the 2023 World Cup champions should be that the pipeline of Spanish talent is wide open and, with the explosion of women’s soccer’s popularity, will not be closing anytime soon. Consider the rest of the world on notice.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

Midge Purce-Backed Docuseries ‘The Offseason’ to Drop This Summer

cast of the offseason nwsl reality series
'The Offseason' follows a group of NWSL stars as they prepare for preseason play. (The Offseason)

The Offseason, a reality series created by Gotham and USWNT star Midge Purce, has officially confirmed its streaming debut, Purce announced in Cannes on Tuesday.

The six-episode, half-hour docuseries will stream this summer on X, though a specific premiere date hasn't yet been set.

The Offseason was filmed in Miami, two weeks before the NWSL preseason. It's a crucial time for athletes, a period where they prepare to join their respective teams and compete for both starting and roster spots. Production designed all the facilities, bringing in top-tier trainers, masseuses, chefs, and gym equipment to create a high-level training environment, ensuring the players were in peak condition, per the show's release. Throughout filming, athletes lived together in one house — a reality TV conceit rife for entertainment.

The series follows a number of NWSL stars, including Purce (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Maria Sanchez (Houston Dash), Lo’eau LaBonta (Kansas City Current), Michelle Alozie (Houston Dash), Taylor Smith (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Nikki Stanton (OL Reign), Ally Watt (Orlando Pride), Taryn Torres (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Paige Nielsen (Angel City FC), and Ify Onumonu (Utah Royals).

"We wanted to create a series that truly captures the essence of what it means to be a professional athlete," said Purce. "This series has always been about more than just sports — it's about the human experience behind the athlete, as well."

The show promises a behind-the-scenes look at professional women's sports, teasing major life decisions, on-field tensions, and players taking stock of the environments they'll be entering once their preseason trip is over. The series delves into the real-life challenges faced by the athletes, including club trades, contract negotiations, burnout, and the relentless pressure from outsiders commenting on the players' personal lives.

The Offseason's official trailer, released on Tuesday, shows snippets of Hubly contemplating retirement, Sanchez joining the group after signing a high-profile contract, and a healthy amount of banter about on-field achievements.

The spirit of the series is reflected in its producers: Box To Box Films is known for their sports content (Drive to Survive, Break Point, Full Swing), whereas 32 Flavors is the creative force behind Vanderpump Rules and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. The series was funded by Seven Seven Six, and executive produced by Purce.

Lilia Vu adds Meijer LPGA Classic to tour wins record

Lilia Vu won in her first tournament in two months. (Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Lilia Vu won her fifth LPGA Tour event on Sunday, taking home the Meijer LPGA Classic title in her first tournament since March. 

The world No. 2 had been sidelined with a back injury, but returned with a vengeance. She began the day eight shots back of leader Grace Kim, and survived a three-hole playoff against Kim and former champion Lexi Thompson to take the title. 

“I think this is the most meaningful win,” said Vu, “because there was a time two months ago where I was just crying on the range not being sure if I would ever play a tournament again without pain.”

A two-time major champion, Vu hadn’t before won the Meijer LPGA Classic, but a birdie on the third playoff hole helped secure it. She’s now 2-for-3 in LPGA Tour playoffs. 

She said on Sunday that being unable to defend her title at the Chevron Championship was the “breaking point” in her season.

“Not being able to compete there really killed me,” she said. “I feel like I thought I was taking the steps in the right direction, but I’m glad that I was able to take a couple months off and reevaluate my body, let it recover, do what I needed to do to get back out here again.

“And we did the right thing and took two months off. I think it hurt me not to play competitive golf because I literally live for competitive golf, but we did the right thing and that’s why I’m here today.”

Top tennis players pull out of Olympics citing health reasons

Aryna Sabalenka will not play in the Olympics. (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images)

Ons Jabeur and Aryna Sabalenka joined a growing list of tennis stars opting out of the Olympics on Monday.

Sabalenka, the reigning Australian Open champion and world No. 3, told reporters in Berlin that she was looking after her health while citing WTA tournament participation requirements. The Belarusian had struggled with a stomach bug during the French Open, where she lost in the semifinals of a major for the first time since 2022. 

“Especially with all the struggles I was having last month, I feel like I need to take care of my health. … It’s too much with the scheduling,” Sabalenka said. “It’s just too much. I made the decision to take care of my health.”

Similarly, Jabeur cited the health risks that come with the change of surface. The world No. 10 has been battling knee injuries this season, and lost in the French Open quarterfinals to Coco Gauff. 

Players will spend the next few weeks playing on grass in the lead-up to Wimbledon, while the Olympics will be played at Roland-Garros and be held on clay. 

“After consulting with my medical team regarding attending the Olympics in Paris, we have decided that the quick change of surface and the body’s adaptation required would put my knee at risk and jeopardize the rest of my season,” Jabeur posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Unfortunately, I will not be able to participate in the 2024 Paris Olympics. I have always loved representing my country in any competition, However, I must listen to my body and follow my medical team’s advice.”

The two join Emma Raducanu in opting out of the Olympics. Raducanu – who has dealt with a number of injuries since her US Open win in 2021 – cited the changing surface as “not worth the risk.”

Jaedyn Shaw Breaks NWSL Record for Most Goals Scored as a Teenager

Jaedyn Shaw of the san diego wave
Jaedyn Shaw is now holds the record for most NWSL goals as a teenager. (Julia Kapros-USA TODAY Sports)

Jaedyn Shaw continues to make NWSL history, surpassing Trinity Rodman for the most NWSL goals by a teenager on Saturday. 

She did it in a game against Rodman's Washington Spirit in the 20th minute of the 1-1 draw. It brings her total to 13 league goals, after making her NWSL debut at 17 years old in July 2022. 

The goal is her third this season. Shaw currently leads Wave alongside Makenzy Doniak. 

Shaw has also been a member of the USWNT, alongside Rodman, netting seven goals over 14 national team appearances. If she gets called up to this summer’s Olympics under Emma Hayes, it will mark her first official tournament with the USWNT.

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