REIMS, France — The United States women’s national team is back in Reims, the site of its eye-popping 13-0 victory over Thailand to open the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
This time, the U.S. will play Spain in a round of 16 match at noon ET Monday. Spain is ranked No. 13 in the world and finished second behind Germany in Group B. The Spanish side took down South Africa 3-1 in the group stage, then lost 1-0 to Germany and played China to a scoreless draw.
“In terms of what Spain can expose, I don’t really want to share my secrets,” U.S. midfielder Rose Lavelle said during a Sunday news conference. “But we played them in January and they were great. They pressed us and they had a lot of special players and some good distributors. They’re a great passing team. So, I think it’s going to be a fun game.”
U.S. coach Jill Ellis could field her first-choice starting lineup for the first time this tournament. She opted to rest Becky Sauerbrunn in the opener as a precaution for a quad issue. The second match, she used mostly her bench players against Chile and against Sweden, Julie Ertz did not start because of a hip contusion. Alex Moran also subbed out during halftime of the Sweden match after taking a hard hit.
Ellis said both Morgan and Ertz are “fine.”
The U.S. first met Spain during a friendly in January, which the Americans won 1-0. Christen Press scored the winning goal in the 54th minute.
“I actually pushed hard to get that game because I think it was important for us,” Ellis said. “Spain’s a great opponent, so we have to be sharp.”
Spain, which is making its first World Cup appearance, is a crafty and technical team from a country that has seen major growth in its domestic women’s leagues in recent years. That growth has contributed to the rising talent of younger players, and Spain won the 2018 U-17 Women’s World Cup. Celia Jiménez Delgado, a 24-year-old defender for Reign FC in the National Women’s Soccer League and University of Alabama graduate, is on Spain’s roster.
The United States bullied its way through the group stage, setting various World Cup records along the way, including the most goals scored in the group stage with 18. That, coupled with the No. 1 world ranking and the 2015 World Cup title make the U.S. a daunting challenge for any team in the tournament.
“We have to be the first to believe in our chances,” Spanish defender Irene Paredes said during a news conference Monday. “If you start a game thinking that you will lose, you will lose most likely to any opponent. We have been working for a long time. We have already faced great rivals and we always give an extra in those games. It will be complicated, but I believe in the team, in our weapons and possibilities and we hope to prove it on the field.”
Spain had nearly a full week of rest between its final group stage game June 17 and Monday’s match. The United States played its last group match June 20, so it is entering the game on three days of rest.
Spain coach Jorge Vilda echoed Ellis in saying that his team will stick to the style of play it is known for, thought he said that will be hard to do against the U.S., which he said have the fastest and most technical players in the world.
“They like strategy, and you see the influence from American football in soccer there,” Vilda said. “They pay attention to strategy, they have alternatives and players that take free kicks amazingly and move very well at set pieces. It is one of their main strengths, but we are prepared.
“We know that they did not concede a goal in the last seven matches, and that they have scored 47. But the stats are there to be broken.”