Angel City's international friendly with Tigres Femenil displays growth in women's soccer




Angel City FC
Angel City FC's Megan Reid, right, and Tigres Femenil's Mia Fishel jump to head a cross during the first half of an international friendly at Banc of California Stadium on Wednesday. (Harry How / Getty Images)  

They play the same sport under the same rules. But teams in the U.S.-based NWSL play a very different game than their sisters in Mexico's Liga MX Femenil.

"The NWSL is more physical compared to Liga MX," said Angel City's Stefany Ferrer Van Ginkel, who has played in both leagues.

"One-hundred percent," agreed former UCLA All-American Mia Fishel, who plays for four-time Mexican champion Tigres.

"Mexico uses more of their soccer IQ, their technical abilities because they don't have necessarily the speed and the height of an American player."

Those differences should have made Wednesday's Angel City-Tigres exhibition at a half-empty Banc of California Stadium - a game that ended in a 1-0 Angel City win - a showcase of competing styles. Instead, it was a largely cautious, uncreative affair aside from the performances of Van Ginkel, a Brazilian by way of Spain, and teammate Jun Endo of Japan, a second-half substitute.

Van Ginkel, whose dribbling turned Tigres' defenders around all night, played more than twice as many minutes in the first half alone as she did in Angel City's first 13 NWSL games combined. But the only score of the night came 10 minutes after she left the field, with a sliding Savannah McCaskill deflecting in a Tyler Lussi cross in the 79th minute.

For both teams, the game was far more important than the final score.

For Angel City, a first-year NWSL team, a friendly with Mexico's winningest club offered a chance to test itself on the field while raising its profile off it.

"As we were building the club, we wanted to challenge them early to play incredible teams," said Julie Uhrman, the team's president and a co-founder.

It also made sense for Angel City, which is still building its fan base, to bring a Liga MX team into the heart of Southern California, home to about 6 million Mexicans and Mexican Americans.

For Tigres, who have played in seven of the nine championship games in Liga MX history, winning four, facing teams from the older, deeper and more-established NWSL gives the team - and the league - added respectability. Tigres played the NWSL's Houston Dash in 2019 and 2021, splitting the two games, and will host Angel City next year in Monterrey.

"I think it puts a spotlight on the Mexican league for players or spectators that maybe aren't watching," Angel City coach Freya Coombe said of the NWSL-Liga MX friendlies. "It's a good partnership. It's very important for the growth of the game. Hopefully this is an opportunity for us to get some international club competition and a more formal club competition on the women's side.

"You've got the Champions League in Europe. For us now, this is the next stage."

In some ways, the NWSL can take credit for inspiring the Liga MX Femenil, Mexico's first foray into a top-flight women's professional league.

When the NWSL rose from the ashes of the WPS in 2012, it was with the support of the U.S., Canada and Mexico soccer federations, which agreed to pay the salaries of its top players who signed with the league. But by 2015, after a season in which no Mexican national team member played a minute in the NWSL, the Mexican federation pulled its support and launched a league of its own in 2017.

Since then, Canada and the U.S., led by NWSL players, have combined to win two Olympic medals and a World Cup title while Mexico failed to qualify for either tournament.

But the Mexican league has grown tremendously in its six years, drawing substantial TV audiences and frequent crowds of 30,000 or more while attracting foreign players such as Uchenna Kanu of Nigeria, Jenni Hermoso of Spain and Fishel, the first big-name American to turn down an NWSL contract in favor of one in Liga MX.

"I love that Mexico is being a leader in this space with NWSL," said Tigres' coach Carmelina Moscato, who played three years in the U.S. league. "This is the beginning of a wonderful relationship. This is a sign of more to come."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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