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.
Mexico is a legendary soccer country. But for too long, only the men have gotten the attention.
The Mexican women's national team, aka La Tri, has technically been around since the early 1960s. At a time where FIFA didn't recognize women's soccer, the original team was organized by the Mexican Association of Women's Football (AMFF) and discouraged by the official federation. Pioneers like Alicia Vargas, known as La Pelé, made Mexico an international talent in an era where FIFA and domestic federations were suppressing women's soccer. But despite drawing in a crowd of over 100,000 fans at Estadio Azteca and creating a domestic league, a successful future for women's soccer didn't come to pass.
La Tri played it's first FIFA-recognized match in 1991. Vargas made the roster at 37-years-old, but she and the rest of the players who won those early championships were largely lost to history. Mexico didn't qualify for their first Women's World Cup until 1999, when they were playing under long-time Head Coach Leonardo Cuéllar. But even though the game was officially recognized by FIFA and the Mexican Football Federation (FMF), the team lacked the support to be successful.
The 1999 roster also invited controversy, since it largely relied on dual-citizens of Mexico and the United States. The team argued that they were putting themselves in the best position to win, but the large amount of American-born players only highlighted the lack of opportunities for women to develop their skills within Mexico. This remained true sixteen years later, when Mexico played in the 2015 Women's World Cup and 10 players on the 23-player roster were American-born.
Despite a lack of support from the federation, some star players, like Alicia Vargas, have managed to break through and shine. The team's current head coach, Monica Vergara, is one example. She played for Mexico in their only Olympics appearance (Athens 2004) before she joined the coaching system. Maribel Dominguez has the most goals all-time (that's men and women) for Mexico and accumulated over 100 caps during her career. She was recently promoted from the head coach of the U-17 national team to the U-20 national team. And even though Mexico didn't advance out of the group stage in the 2011 Women's World Cup, Monica Ocampo scored an absolute golazo in their match against England that some consider to be one of the best World Cup goals of all time.
From the outside, it may appear that the Mexican federation is more a hinderance than a help to the senior women's national team. But the fans that I spoke to disagreed with that sentiment. For example, the Mexican federation has been in the news a lot recently for the persistent use of homophobic chants targeting opposing players at the men's national team matches. The problem became so serious that FIFA issued a two-game ban on fans in the stadium. And, initially, the Mexican federation's solution was to have the women's team serve one game of the two-game ban, because FIFA did not specify which team needed to serve the ban.
But Mexican fans point to what happened after that as evidence of the growing power of women's soccer and its influence on the federation. The backlash from this decision was swift and severe, with people from Mexico and the international community quick to criticize. The next morning, the federation president spoke on a radio show to deny that they were going to pass along the ban. The fact that they rushed the president out to do damage control, according to the fans I spoke to, shows that the federation recognizes the increasing power and important role of women's soccer.
So, where does that leave the Mexican national team today? The matches they've played so far this year haven't produced great results. But the fans I spoke to are unwaveringly optimistic about the future. They point to success on the youth level, such as Mexico's run to the finals in the U-17 Women's World Cup in 2018, and the increasing number of national team camps and matches against higher ranked countries. They believe their team is in a good position to qualify for their fourth Women's World Cup in 2023, and they feel that the infrastructure that is currently being developed will serve Mexico well in the future.
A key aspect of that infrastructure is the domestic league, Liga MX Femenil, which we'll explore in the next article, so stay tuned!
I want to thank Jessica Badillo and Eugene Rupinski for speaking with me and helping me understand the full picture of the Mexican women's national team. You can follow Jessica on Twitter and Instagram, and you can follow Eugene on Twitter. Eugene is also a writer for Fut Mex Nation and FMF State of Mind.
In addition to Jessica and Eugene's work, if you would like to follow along more closely with the Mexican women's national team, you can find them on Twitter.