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The All For XI Guide to Women’s Soccer in South America - Southern Cone

Part 2 of our guide to women’s soccer in South America.

Macarena Sanchez- Argentine Footballer Photo by Amilcar Orfali/Getty Images

Welcome to part two of our guide to women’s soccer in South America, the first of which can be found here.

The nations of the Southern Cone have long been associated with men’s soccer. While names like Lionel Messi and Edinson Cavani are known across the globe, their counterparts in the women’s game are far less recognizable. But their trials and tribulations are just as worthy of attention as their varonil counterparts, and perhaps even more so. In Argentina, women players have even faced death threats for daring to play soccer.

Nevertheless, they persisted.

Despite the threats to murder Macarena Sánchez (CW: violence), Argentina’s teams are now semi-professional to professional. Chile has unionized their players. These women are setting an example and growing the game despite overwhelming odds.

Argentina: The Primera División A (now branded as Torneo Rexona) was started in 1991, and is the top of three leagues in Argentina. There’s no national cup tournament. The league is semi-professional, with clubs required to have at least eight paid players on the roster. Prior to the 2019-20 season, teams were amateur. The big teams are just who you’d expect if you followed the men’s league: Boca Juniors and River Plate. But there are also others who have had success, such as San Lorenzo (Pope Benedict’s favorite team), Racing Club, and UAI Urquiza, who are the current titleholders. Games are shown on pay television, and only four matches are shown per week.

Some players to watch are Lorena Benítez, Laurina Oliveros (who grew up in Naples, Florida), Eliana Stábile, Miriam Mayorga, Clarisa Huber, Yamila Rodríguez, Micaela Cabrera, Camila Gómez Ares, Natalie Juncos (who grew up in Detroit and attended the University of Florida and University of Houston), Marina Delgado, Mariana Gaitán, Macarena Sánchez, Nicole Hain, Justina Morcillo, Jordan O’Brien (who was born in Huntington Beach, California and played with the Houston Dash and Orlando Pride), Vanessa Penuna, and Carolina Birizamberri

Tomás Rouge, who covers Argentine soccer for Factor Cu4tro, said that “there is a great future and great project for the future of women’s soccer in Argentina.” Rouge cautioned that it was still very much a work in progress. “Many basic questions still need to be worked out to ensure that all who play in the local league can live off of (playing) soccer. There are still many economic inequalities between the clubs and inside of the clubs.” Darío Argüello, who covers Argentine soccer for Magia de Gol, said “People should know that the Argentine women’s league is going through a state of semi-professionalism, despite the tournament being called ‘professional’ since many clubs do not pay for the the eight contracts obligated by the AFA and not all matches are televised, which causes the players to remain invisible and the activity doesn’t reach all of the public television audience.”

Chile: The Torneo FEM started somewhere around 2008, and there are 34 teams in total playing in the Primera A and Primera B divisions. The teams are all affiliated with men’s teams in Chile, and it’s therefore not much of a surprise that most of the same names who are atop the men’s division are regarded as the best in the women’s division as well: Universidad de Chile, Colo Colo, Palestino, and Santiago Morning. Santiago Morning is the only club among those whose men’s club is in a lower division than their women at the time of this writing.

Iona Rothfeld, who founded the National Women’s Soccer Players’ Association (ANJUFF), told me that the league is growing, but remains “very far from the level of soccer we see on other continents.” She noted “it’s missing a lot of regulation, principally (around) arrangements, because the soccer infrastructure is there, but the problem is that they don’t want to share it with women.”

Some of the players Rothfeld recommended keeping an eye on were Carla Guerrero (who currently plays for Rayo Vallecano in Spain), Karen Araya (who played with Sevilla before returning to Chile to play with Santiago Morning), Javiera Grez, Rocio Soto (who played with Zaragoza in 2018-19 but now plays with Santiago Morning), Antonia Canales, and María José Urrutia. Keeping an eye on players may be difficult however. “(Games) are not visible,” says Rothfeld. “Just this year they were going to start broadcasting a game each week on TV. But we don’t know if it will be effective. Some teams transmit (games) by live streaming,” although she admits the streams on Facebook or other platforms are usually low-quality.

Paraguay: The Paraguayan Campeonato Paraguayo de Fútbol Femenino started with an “experimental” tournament in 1997 before starting up for good in 1999. All 13 teams play one another once per season, with quarter- and semi-finals being two legs with the final being one game. While there is a split season, there is only one champion crowned. The two seasonal winners face off to determine who is the titleholder, although both qualify for the Copa Libertadores Femenino. Games are shown on television and Facebook.

Daniel Miranda, who covers fútbol femenino in Paraguay, told me the league “is very competitive and has a lot of talent.” The big teams are Libertad/Limpeño (which united this season), Cerro Porteño, Sol de América, Deportivo Capiatá, Olimpia, 12 de Octubre, Guaireña, and Guaraní. Miranda said some players to watch were Karina Vega (who now plays for Libertad/Limpeño but played college soccer for Division II’s Graceland University in Kansas), Damia Cortaza (Libertad/Limpeño), Joana Galeano (Libertad/Limpeño), Laurie Cristaldo (Libertad/Limpeño). Gloria Saleb, Limpia Fretes, Dahiana Bogarín, Amada Peralta y Verónica Kurtz (who now plays for Cerro Porteño but played college soccer for Fort Hays State University, another Division II school in Kansas). María Martínez, Camila González, Tania Riso, Erika Cartaman, Ramona Martínez, Jéssica Román (Capiatá). Isa Ortiz, Lorena Alonso, Camila Zelada, Natalia Villasanti, Celeste Aguilera, Grety Ávila, Mirta Picco (Sol de América). Vero Britos, Karina Castellano, Deisy Ojeda, María Paz Vera (Olimpia). Talía Valenzuela (Guaraní), Liz Barreto, Yéssica Álvarez (12 de Octubre), Gladis Medina Peralta, and Carmen Morán (Guaireña).

Uruguay: Uruguay has had women’s soccer since 1997, so the development is much further along than a lot of other countries in the region. Uruguay’s women’s soccer has four categories: the Primera División, Segunda División, and a U19 and U16 division as well. It is however not professional. Matches are streamed on AUF TV, however only clásicos (and some of the Uruguayan National Team matches).

The big teams are those you’d expect if you follow Uruguayan fútbol: Peñarol, Nacional, and defending champions Liverpool (named after the city that the Capuchin monks that founded the club were from). The league seems to be following in the footsteps of the men’s league, becoming a place known for producing young players. Belén Aquino is an 18 year old striker who made her first senior team appearance in 2019 playing with Colón. Esperanza Pizzarro is a 19 year old forward who also made her first senior team appearance in 2019 and plays for Nacional.

While I’ve tried to link to as many clubs as I could, most are to Twitter accounts. If the club has a separate femenino account I linked to that, otherwise it’s the men’s account. Bear in mind that Facebook and Instagram are very popular platforms, perhaps more popular than Twitter in certain parts of the world. But check them out. Look for them and their games there.