Editor’s Note — This interview was conducted in Spanish and translated into English by the authors. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
This interview was conducted prior to FC Barcelona’s win over Paris Saint-Germain to advance to the UEFA Women’s Champion League final against Chelsea.
Maria Victoria Losada Gómez is the fourth Spanish player to have played in the National Women’s Soccer League. In 2014, Losada joined Sonia Bermudez and Adriana Martín in Rochester, New York to play for the Western New York Flash (Verónica “Vero” Boquete is the other Spanish player). Currently, she is the captain of FC Barcelona — “el club de su vida” (the club of her life), and a member of the Spanish National Team, earning 68 caps, including one in which she scored Spain´s first Women’s World Cup goal in 2015 against Costa Rica.
Losada spoke to Our Game Magazine in what became a wide-ranging interview that touched on everything from her experience playing in the United States to how women’s soccer in Spain is progressing.
Recalling the “Spanish Armada” in Western New York
Losada was 22 years old when she decided to cross the Atlantic and signed with the Western New York Flash in NWSL. Why? Her reasons were twofold: at the time, the Primera División in Spain wasn’t a professional league and she had already won several trophies and wanted a new experience.
“Because I couldn’t be professional then in Spain [and the U.S.] has the best women’s soccer league and one of the few places you can earn enough to live on playing soccer,” she recalled. “I already had played for six years there, won the league three times, right before getting the fourth. I remember that I also got the Queen’s Cup and then I realized that I wanted something more.”
That offer in 2014 was unusual because of the lack of interest in and coverage of the Spanish league.
“Spanish women’s soccer was never mentioned by anyone,” Losada said, “there was no social media and no women’s soccer on TV.”
It was under those circumstances that Losada signed with Western New York and flew to New York to begin her new adventure. Before departing for New York, however, she bought a few pairs of football boots to take with her. On arriaval, she was delighted to find boots waiting for her selection, which was very different from her experience thus far in Spain.
“I used to buy shoes on my own from an early age,” Losada recalled. “When I arrived there, I found plenty of shoes than I’d ever seen! They arrived from Nike and many other places for us. It was completely different.”
Equipment availability wasn’t the only difference. At that time, in her home country, training started at 11 p.m. And it was common to play in front of empty stands.
“We trained from 11 p.m.* Every weekend, we traveled long distances by bus to play on the pitch where there was no family, spectators, no TV broadcast, of course, and came back at 3 a.m.”
*Editor’s note — Yes, 11 p.m. At the time Losada is speaking about, training was around players’ work and school schedules so often late at night.
Match days in the U.S. were a revelation for Losada. Back then, Losada’s family couldn’t travel to her games so seeing how players’ families were often able to attend matches was special.
“The players in the States have a competitive mentality and [are more] physical than us. And you can see how they live the match days with their families. Not only that, thousands of spectators came to the matches every weekend! I’d never seen all of those things.”
After appearing in 23 matches for the Flash in 2014, Losada returned to FC Barcelona to finish out the year. Her return was short-lived, however. In 2015, she signed with Arsenal in the FA Women’s Super League.
“The women’s leagues were held in the summer and didn’t coincide with other men’s sports so it allowed fans to follow as an event and to attract more people. So I went from March to September and after that, I returned to Barcelona for six months and I went to England where the league [FA Women’s Super League] used to be held in the summer, too”.
It turns out her connection to the Flash was also her connection to Arsenal.
“Well, the assistant coach of the New York Flash [Pedro Losa, 2012-2014 ] signed with Arsenal and called me. He asked f I wanted to go to England, and to Arsenal. The American league was the opportunity in my life but in Europe, soccer is different. In the end, England is the place of dreams for soccer lovers in general. I miss the FA Women’s Super League. I came back to Barcelona after having played in Arsenal but I really didn’t want to. However, I had to follow my heart because that was the moment when FC Barcelona professionalized for the first time in history. So, I went back sadly. The English league is the best one for me.”
“In fact, I continue to follow the English league and stay in contact with ex-teammates. I love how they live soccer there and the passion to compete up until the last minute. But Barça is my home. I couldn’t be far from my home when they professionalized. That’s why I came back to Barcelona.”
The International Champions Cup is held in the U.S. in the summer and FC Barcelona is one of the rumored teams participating in the tournament. Could we see her return the the U.S. this summer?
“I read some articles about it but I don’t know,” Losada said about Barcelona’s participation. “As you know, now everybody can publish news on social media. Frankly speaking, we don’t know anything, whether we go or not because we don’t have any confirmation. If it’s true, Olympique de Lyon, Portland… top-class teams will be participating, they have the highest levels.”
The Fight for Equality
Losada knows that the lack of support for women’s soccer isn’t just a problem caused by a pandemic but “because of the machismo history of our country,” and progress takes time.
“Well, we’re fighting always but we took a step back. All the world knows that now we have a very difficult situation due to Covid in Spain. But I think that everyone has to love women’s football in our country if they want us to become one of the best leagues in the world.”
“I understand that there are the older people who are not used to seeing women playing soccer. I think that the new generation is changing the way children are educated, and the habit [of seeing girls playing soccer] itself is changing now. But it’s true that soccer in Spain continues to be a very masculinized world and that we have to continue to change mentalities. It requires constant work that we must be dedicated day by day.”
In 2015, Losada scored Spain’s first goal in a Women’s World Cup against Costa Rica. Her goal didn’t help the team in its fight for equality, however. After the team was eliminated in the group stage, the players asked for the dismissal of Ignacio Quereda, then the long-serving national team coach who had received criticism for harassment and failure to progress the team in tournaments.
Losada was one of the youngest members on that 2015 team and struggled with how to deal with the toxic atmosphere. Players kept their mouths shut for fear of retribution, including being dropped from the squad.
“I was one of the youngest members,” Losada recalled. “I heard later that they had worse situations before. In my opinion, Canada was a first World Cup which started to make women’s soccer visible [in Spain]. We were very united. But there was an unpleasant atmosphere and it turned into routine [to stay quiet]. However, that was the price to pay if you wanted to represent your country and to be in the international tournament, Euro, or World Cup.”
At first, Quereda ignored the complaints of “his girls” and remained in charge. But the world was watching and afterward the players spoke in public without fear and the media conveyed their voices to the society.
“Finally, the change had come. I think that we needed the change when things went wrong. In addition, the person in charge was there for 27 years! Soccer develops, everything changes… And the most difficult thing is to keep players motivated, I guess. However, we had a vice-versa situation and not only how he treated us but the preparation for the World Cup were poor, very bad. We were not ready at all.
“For example, we didn’t play any friendly matches. Practically nothing. We were not prepared. We went to Canada just three days before starting the World Cup. Of course, it was very difficult to play with jet-lag. Everything was not normal. Sure, now it’s better. But we have to continue for getting better. I feel pity for those players who had to abandon the national team earlier than expected because they got hurt for trying to fight against [the conditions].”
“In 2019, the World Cup in France was different. The environment had changed a few years before. Finally, things have evolved throughout the years. We are a very young team with lots of talent but fewer years as professionals compared to the other national teams. Physically, as always, we were little steps behind but we get improving.”.
In France, she started against the U.S. but injured her eye and had to leave the pitch.
“In the last World Cup, personally, I had a bad time because I could not see anything at 20 minutes from the kick off, and I had to ask for a substitution.”
“USA is the best of the world. They showed us in attitude and titles. But I believe that people saw that we had a bright future and that Spain would be at the top sooner or later.”
Anticipating the Euros
Spain has already qualified for the UEFA Euros, now scheduled for July 2022 after being postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Losada is excited for the world to see the level at which Spain performs now as well as returning to play in England where the competition will be held.
“Sincerely this Euro is very special for me because it takes place in England. They open the best stadiums in the world for us and it’s a very good moment for Spain to show the level that we have now and we can compete with the best teams and enjoy.”
“I got injured in a crucial moment because we were growing a lot but I had to leave for a long time and it took time to come back. Now I am starting again to find minutes, to catch up, and feel good. I couldn’t have enough participation at Barça, so it’s logical that they didn’t call me up for international matches. But my goal is to change the current situation. I hope that I can return to the national team definitely and of course, that is my goal but, in the end, all you can do is to do daily work. If this be my destiny — we’ll see.”
“Now I’m perfectly fine. The injury that appeared in my tendon is the result to have played at the top level without rest for years and the condition which I’ve played in is not the same that young teammates have now. In the long run, a kind of injuries that I suffered is not inevitable for elite athletes.”
One of the final venues in Euro is Wembley where she played with Arsenal in 2015–2016.
“Yes, Wembley is a mythical and historical stadium. The atmosphere is unbelievable! I’ve experienced raising the cup there with Arsenal. If I can do the same with the national team, it would a be real dream!”
Before joining up with national team, she can get two titles more this season with Barça. One of the aims is to win the UEFA Champions league.
“We had a very hard tie against Manchester City. To reach the Champions League’s semifinal is so difficult. Now we have to compete it. The Champions League is the most complicated tournament and at the same time, the most amazing to play. We don’t care with whom to [play against]. We’ll fight, take advantage to defeat because this team wants to win.”
“For this time, the Champions League Cup must be ours. We have to win the cup no matter what. I know that we have to struggle to win against the French team [PSG] that has a maximum level but we have the advantage to play at home in the second leg. I hope that a lot of spectators can come to enjoy the game and of course, hope to get the good result in the first leg in France.”
At present, FC Barcelona has no rivals in the domestic league. Is the lack of competitiveness detrimental to the team’s growth?
“It’s true that Barça has absolute authority in our league but it’s due to our own merit. Now in Barça, we are 100% professionals and the conditions that the team gives us are getting better. It helps to improve our performance and also the mentality in our team; mindsets count too because we are very competitive and we have winner’s spirits. We demonstrate it on the field. Physically, we have taken one step forward, too as we realize it in many games against tough rivals…it’s a fact that we continue to win games but it’s not easy although we have good results. But to play at a high level makes it easier to play well in Europe, too.”
On the other hand, actually, in our league, the difference is abysmal although we have a lot of talented players. The fact can be prejudicial for us.”
“In other words, I believe that it’s absolutely necessary to bet much more on having good structures from childhood, to have good educators, and coaches, to get materials in order to practice daily in appropriate conditions, to recover well. And girl’s players also must change the mentality to be more competitive and ambitious with a desire to compete more.”
However, she is optimistic. She wants to give the girls an environment that she couldn’t get when she was a child. She collaborates actively with the Barça Foundation to help create an environment. Little by little, she can find the sign of change in Spain.
“When you drive in the street, you can see schools from the window, playing soccer in a mixed team of girls and boys. I’d never seen it when I was child simply because that was impossible before.”
“Equality is key and also is important that people see that we are also involved not only in soccer but in social activities because we have to be role models.”
“I’ve been here for 16 years except 1 to 2 years when I played abroad. I know well the mechanism of the club and the options that they can offer us. I think that we have to use well to give the visibility and we should be model of what they wish to become.”
Losada currently has the second most appearances in FC Barcelona women’s soccer history. What does the future hold for her?
“While my body can bear it, I want to continue playing. At least up to 40 years old like Formiga. I know that it’s difficult to keep your career as a soccer player and life as a woman. For example, if you are 23 years old, you may think about having children but obviously, when you are 30 years old, if you drop off, your career might be affected. Nowadays, we have a lot of examples like Alex Morgan or Norwegian players and so on. I don’t think that is not problem. However, we have to change our mentality and normalize it. It’s important that the clubs help you to do it.”
“Professionally my goal for now is to win the Champions League. I really hope to get it. And to be in the final squad list for Euros with the national team. On the other hand, I would like to create women’s soccer schools to give more opportunities and to share my experience with girls of the world. And one day, I hope that I can open a school in the United States. Who knows?”