Spain excludes top players for game vs. USWNT amid ugly dispute with coach, federation

Spain players pose before the Women Euro 2022 group B soccer match between Germany and Spain at Brentford Community Stadium in London, England, Tuesday, July 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Spain players pose before the Women Euro 2022 group B soccer match between Germany and Spain at Brentford Community Stadium in London, England, Tuesday, July 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Spain has excluded 17 of its top women's soccer players from its roster for next month's game against the U.S. as most of those players remain locked in a dispute with the country's soccer federation over working conditions.

Fifteen players wrote to the federation (the RFEF) last week to say that the current team environment had harmed their physical and emotional health, and that they would not play for the national team until the situation was "reversed." The federation responded by publicizing those emails and scolding the players.

On Friday, after revealing a roster that included none of the 15 players — and also did not include two others who've reportedly supported them, Jenni Hermoso and captain Irene Paredes — head coach Jorge Vilda doubled down on his and the federation's combative stance.

"If you don't value what it means to be here, to wear this shirt and represent your country, you don't deserve to come," he said at a news conference.

When asked to explain the exclusions of Paredes and Hermoso, who have not publicly resigned or criticized the federation, Vilda avoided the question, and said he would talk only about the 23 players he did choose.

Those 23 still constitute a World Cup-caliber team, but not the team that U.S. Soccer thought it would get as an opponent when it scheduled an Oct. 11 game against La Roja earlier this month. Speaking one day prior to Spain's roster release, U.S. women's national team coach Vlatko Andonovski said that he, USWNT general manager Kate Markgraf, and other U.S. Soccer officials were "monitoring the situation," but didn't elaborate. He said the higher-ups were "informing me for whatever I need to know," and in the meantime, "I don't really have to do anything except prepare the team in the best possible manner to win this game."

There have been some calls from fans for the USWNT to boycott the game in solidarity with the Spanish players. There has been no indication from U.S. Soccer or the players that such a significant move is on the table. Multiple U.S. players, though, did express support for the Spanish players late last week.

"I don’t know the private details, but if 15 of the best players in the world wanted to share feedback I’d respect them enough as people and players to take their concerns seriously," Becky Sauerbrunn, the USWNT Players Association president, wrote on Twitter.

Alex Morgan wrote that the Spanish players "deserve so much better."

The Spanish players' concerns, according to a report last Friday from Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo, include that Vilda oversees a "dictatorial" environment. He allegedly checked the players' bags after they went shopping, for instance; and if they were going out for coffee, he'd demand to know who they are going with. "All movement was subject to strict surveillance," the Spanish outlet reported.

The players reportedly took their complaints to Vilda and to the RFEF weeks ago. They said in a statement last Friday that they'd engaged in a private back-and-forth, and sought a "firm commitment to a professional project." When the federation refused to make such a commitment, 15 of them chose to temporarily resign from the team.

The players, though, have not publicly detailed their specific concerns. Vilda alluded to this at his Friday press conference. "We don't even know what the players want," he said. "I would've liked them to come out and speak clearly."

He essentially claimed that he has always treated players "exquisitely," and challenged any former players to speak up if that was not the case.

He acknowledged that dialogue with the players had been lacking, but argued that it was not his fault.

He said he'd never considered resigning, and that no player had asked him to. (Reports late last month indicated that the players had asked him to step down. The RFEF also intimated last week that the players had pressured it to fire Vilda. The players said in a statement that they had "never asked for the dismissal of the coach.")

Vilda reiterated that the "players must reflect and admit their mistake," and attempted to paint himself as the victim. "I don't wish what I'm going through these days on anyone," he said.