Mexico's Liga MX Femenil having impact at Women's World Cup

When Liga MX Femenil was created in 2016, a goal was to build on the consecutive appearances of Mexico's women's national team at the 2011 and 2015 Women's World Cup tournaments. It's ironic, to say the least, that El Tri did not qualify for the 2019 tournament nor the 2023 edition. However, thanks in large part to the league, women's soccer is growing both in Mexico and abroad, a fact clearly visible on this year's World Cup rosters.

No other league whose home country didn't make the World Cup sent more players to the tournament than Liga MX Femenil. Nine players across five countries suited up for Mexican clubs last season before earning their call-up. The biggest name on that list by far is Spain forward Jennifer Hermoso, who plays for Club Pachuca. Though foreign players were allowed to sign with the league in 2021, Hermoso's deal a year later signified a willingness to make blockbuster signings and make Mexico an attractive destination for other notable players around the world.

Beyond the promise of robust salaries for stars, the league's growing commitment to present a polished product stands out as a major selling point.

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"One of the things [Liga MX Femenil] has is organization like I've never seen anywhere else," Hermoso told ESPN Mexico in December. "Compared to Spain, this league is much more organized. In Mexico, you play in these perfect stadiums, whereas in Spain sometimes you still play on fields."

While Hermoso, who placed second in the vote for the 2021 Women's Ballon d'Or, is undoubtedly the biggest star, the league has excelled in bringing worldwide talent in its quest to gain notoriety quickly and attempt to find a spot among the sport's top circuits.

Costa Rica called upon three players who played in Liga MX Femenil last season to the World Cup. Argentina's all-time top scorer, forward Mariana Larroquette, starred for Club Leon this year and will join the NWSL's Orlando Pride after the summer break. Jermaine Seoposenwe, who starred in South Africa's win of the 2022 Women's Africa Cup of Nations, will move from FC Juarez to Monterrey after she returns from Australia and New Zealand.

The moves have paid off, generating more buzz for the league at home and abroad, attracting fans and sponsorship deals. When play kicks off in the 2023-24 season, Nike will provide the league's official match ball. FC Barcelona Femeni, Hermoso's old team, will visit Mexico for the first time to face Club America and Tigres UANL in a pair of friendlies later this summer.

"Every year, we've been watching Liga MX Femenil break records with television ratings, stadium attendance and social media following," said Mikel Arriola, who oversees both the men's and women's Liga MX tournaments, at a league event earlier this month. "That's not fortuitous. Liga MX Femenil is among the top five [leagues] in the world."

Regardless of whether Arriola's statement can be taken at face value, what is undeniable is that the Mexico women's pro league has a growing profile. So, why has the Mexican national team not been able to reap its perceived benefits?

Former manager Monica Vergara called on 15 Liga MX Femenil players to the 2022 W Concacaf Championship, effectively the World Cup qualifier, which was also held in the northern city of Monterrey. Despite thrashing regional opposition on the road to the tournament, El Tri were held scoreless in three matches against the United States, Jamaica and Haiti -- all of whom are present in Australia and New Zealand. After finishing last in Group A, Vergara was relieved of her duties.

The showing was part of a larger annus horribilis for Mexico national teams, which failed to qualify for the men's under-20 World Cup, as well as the 2024 Olympic Games (neither the men's or women's side will be in Paris), and perhaps most notably, the senior men's team crashing out of the group stage at the 2022 World Cup for the first time since 1978.

Despite the underwhelming results in the recent past, those in charge of the country's future remain bullish on what's to come.

"Mexico has all the ingredients to be a world power in women's soccer. It has a great league and great structure within the league's clubs," said Pedro López, Mexico's women's national team manager, in a call with media members after taking over for Vergara. "The work being done by the league and its clubs make for a bright future."

This year, Mexico dominated the Concacaf women's under-20 championship in the Dominican Republic, beating the United States in the final en route to their second title and qualification to the 2024 World Cup in Colombia. Pachuca's 17-year-old wunderkind Alice Soto won Best Player after the tournament ended on June 4, before flying back to Mexico City and scoring for Pachuca in the second leg of the Liga MX Femenil final a day later.

Earlier this month, the federations for Mexico and the United States presented a joint bid to host the 2027 Women's World Cup, a natural extension of the men's tournament, which will be held in those countries (plus Canada) a year prior. Should the proposal win out, it would ensure El Tri's first World Cup appearance since 2015, endowing the nascent Liga MX Femenil to continue its original mission to support a brighter future for its country on the international stage.

Even if the national team's future doesn't shake out as positively as their fans would like, it likely won't be because of any perceived failure from the domestic circuit, as evidenced by its growth and its presence at this year's World Cup.

As Mariana Gutierrez, the director of Liga MX Femenil points out, the ultimate goal for Mexico's pro league is a lofty one, though not impossible. "We want to be the best league in the world," Gutierrez said in a 2021 interview with Goal.

"We're working toward it, and we understand that even now, we have everything to be one of the biggest and strongest leagues."