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Around the World in Women's Soccer: Liga MX Femenil

Around the World in Women's Soccer is a series that explores women's soccer in other countries. Each country will get two stories: The first will explore the country's national team, while the second will explore the country's domestic league.

Women's soccer changed in Mexico in 2017.

Before that year, Mexico didn't have a competitive, professional women's soccer league. There was an attempt to create a league in the 1970s after the women's national team found success in the unofficial world championships. But that league eventually folded due to lack of support from the Mexican football federation (FMF). In 2007, Mexico tried again to create a professional women's league, called Liga Mexicana de Futbol Femenil. While the league had some short-term success, it lacked sponsorships and media coverage. Eventually, the league was relegated to semi-professional status.

But in 2016, the President of Liga MX announced the formation of Liga MX Femenil. The league was created with the goal of developing and nurturing women's soccer talent within Mexico, which is why it initially did not allow any foreign players. The goal was to grow the game domestically and give women who previously did not have these opportunities a chance to play. All the clubs are tied to men's teams from Liga MX, with only two clubs—Puebla and Lobos BUAP—initially being given passes for financial hardship.

The league started in May 2017 with a pre-season tournament, Copa MX Femenil. This tournament featured 12 of the 16 teams that would play in the first season and was won by Pachuca, who dominated the tournament. Pachuca's top goal-scorer was Monica Ocampo, who scored 8 goals in four games (Bernice Munoz and Yamilé Franco, who also played for Pachuca, rounded out the tournaments top goal-scorers with 7 and 6 goals, respectively). You may remember Ocampo from her golazo against England in the 2011 Women's World Cup. Already, the new league was allowing Mexico's talent to shine.

The inaugural season kicked off in July 2017. The league uses the same structure as the men's league, Liga MX, which means that the season is divided into two halves, Apertura and Clausura. Despite their dominance in the preseason tournament, Pachuca was defeated in the Apertura finals by Chivas (aka Guadalajara).

Since then, the league has continued to grow. Puebla and Lobos BUAP eventually added teams, bringing the total number of clubs to 18. Major teams were able to bring in sponsorships, TV deals, and massive attendance numbers. In fact, the May 2018 Clausura final between Tigres and Monterrey drew over 51,000 fans. And because the league was able to establish itself with Mexican players, they are now opening up to allow foreign players to compete. Many fans are also excited about the recent announcement of a U-17 tournament starting in 2022, which will be major in developing domestic talent and giving young women a path to the professional league.

Liga MX Femenil is setting themselves up to be one of the premier women's soccer leagues. But the league isn't without its problems. While major clubs are able to get TV deals, some fans that I spoke to complained that matches can still be hard to find. The quality of travel accommodations and training facilities varies from club-to-club, but is often poor. And players make very little money, even by women's soccer standards, and are usually only offered one-year contracts with little stability. In fact, Mexico's anti-monopoly commission announced on Friday that it is fining 17 of the 18 clubs for conspiring to keep the women's wages low and "to deepen even further the salary gap between male and female soccer players." Teams will be fined about $9 million dollars for this illegal practice.

Things aren't perfect in Liga MX Femenil. There is still room for improvement, but we are seeing people move in the right direction. There can be no doubt that this league has been a success and a revolution for women's soccer in Mexico.

Are you interested in following Liga MX Femenil? It's early in the season, but currently the Tigres (who have won the most league titles at four) are No. 1 in the standings. Desirée Monsiváis, who scored the most goals in the Apertura 2018 season, just surpassed the 100-goal mark. And Katy Martinez, another well-known player, who scored 18 goals for Tigres in 2020, is also close to hitting that 100-goal mark.

You can follow the league on Twitter and Instagram. For solid reporting, I recommend following Eugene Rupinski, who also assisted me with this article. You can find his reporting on FMF State of Mind and Fut Mex Nation. Many teams and players also have their own social media accounts.

A special thank you to Eugene, as well as Jessica Badillo, for helping me with this article. You can find Jessica on Twitter and Instagram. You can find Eugene on Twitter.