Astrain fusing American steel with Spanish design
How can the greatest in the world be improved?
Natalia Astrain believed she may have the solution as she observed the all-conquering ladies of the USA from across the Atlantic.
The Spaniard, who was in charge of teams like Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, observed numerous instances where Americans, both physically and psychologically, set the bar for everyone else.
However, she also noted that other teams, albeit having less physical prowess, may upset and even overwhelm the US with their superior passing, mobility, and combination play. And while Japan’s performance at the FIFA Women’s Global Cup Germany 2011TM is arguably the most well-known historical example of this, Spain and other burgeoning powers had already started employing the same strategy to challenge the hegemony of the world champions.
Astrain found herself wondering if the US could have the best of both worlds while surrounded by Barcelona’s supreme possession- and technique-focused football culture.
I’ve always admired American athletes from a distance, she said to FIFA+. “I’ve always thought of them as having superpowers because of how physically fit and athletic they are, as well as because of their competitive spirit.
As time passed, I pondered: “How fantastic would it be if we could combine this remarkable resilience and these physical components with the tactical approach I loved at Barcelona? I was quite intrigued by the concept of fusing the best elements of both civilizations.
silverware, substance, and fashion
Most of us would have dismissed it after giving it some thought, but it would have remained an intriguing “What if?” For Astrain, it developed into an obsession that compelled her to risk abandoning a flourishing coaching career in Spain in favour of hoping that America would accept her and her ideas.
She came with “my bag and an ambition of working for the federation,” in her own words. That desire was realised four years later, after achieving success in numerous coaching and directing roles.
She describes the time she was chosen to lead the USA’s U-17 team in November as “an fantastic moment.” “I’m fortunate to have come to this place at the appropriate time, when the entire federation is seriously committed to embracing the playing style I’m so enthusiastic about.
“I’m here to develop players, and I want them to enjoy playing soccer, enjoy having the ball in their possession, and feel like they’re controlling the pace of games. They seem to believe in and genuinely love that method of doing things, based on what I’ve seen thus far.
— Natalia Astrain (@Astrain_coach) May 11, 2022
At the most recent Concacaf U-17 Women’s Championship, Astrain’s free-flowing, prolific team scored 58 goals and only gave up one on route to winning the championship, providing compelling evidence of that.
It was ideal, she declared. Not just because we prevailed, but also because of how we went about it. The level of football played was exceptional. I adored the girls’ commitment to that style of play and their understanding of its potential for success. They dominated the game and controlled the tempo with the ball.
There was importance in Astrain demonstrating that her winning formula works. In spite of the fact that the U-17 coach’s job is purportedly more focused on developing players than winning championships, aspiring USWNT players need to quickly grasp the fact that wearing the jersey carries a weight of expectation.
Although it’s true that American athletes must succeed, Astrain noted that it’s in their nature to do so. “We’re going out there to win, I always tell them because I’m very competitive. However, they give me a “We’re American – we know!” look. (laughs)”
Advice from a winner
The USA’s athletes will travel to India in October for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World CupTM with this mindset. And if they had any questions about the stage that this international competition offers, one of the famous alumni of the competition—a senior World Cup champion and US Player of the Year—helped clear things up.
Sam Mewis came to speak to our players about her U-17 experiences at one of our camps in February while the senior national team was staying in the same hotel as us, according to Astrain.
“You have no idea how amazing that was for these U-17 players; they were like this the entire time (shows wide-eyed joy).
It was wonderful for our gamers to see that the path to becoming another Sam Mewis is open to them as Sam told them humorous stories and offered tips on how to make the most of the event.
“I share the players’ enthusiasm for this World Cup. In addition to playing fantastic soccer in India, our goal is to triumph. We’ll be contenders [for the title], I believe. I don’t want to provide any extra pressure to the players, but as Americans, I believe they are aware of this fact.
Even if that assertion is true, it’s important to remember that the U-17 championship is one of the very few that has never been won by an American. The 2008 squad, which featured Mewis, her sister Kristie, and Crystal Dunn, came the closest, making it to the finals but losing to Korea DPR in extra time.
The holders are Spain, as Astrain is all too familiar with, and the fact that Asian sides have maintained their dominance speaks to the kind of play that typically succeeds at this level. In light of this, the Americans are in the best possible hands as they travel to India in an effort to succeed.