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Liga MX Femenil 2020 Apertura Preview

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Pick a team, tune in on TUDN, and watch this fun as heck league.

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Monterrey v Tigres UANL - Final Torneo Apertura 2019 Liga MX Femenil Photo by Alfredo Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images

The Federación Mexicana de Fútbol Asociación has released the schedule for the upcoming season, and with about a week until kickoff it’s starting to feel real: Liga MX Femenil is going to be back, and it should be better than ever. Let’s start simple though:

What is Liga MX Femenil?

Liga MX Femenil is the top women’s soccer league in Mexico. Every men’s club in Liga MX is required to field a women’s team, but that’s about as far as it goes. Some teams have separate facilities for their men’s and women’s teams. Some have unique uniforms and sponsorships. Some play in the same stadium as the men, some play in smaller practice stadiums, and Cruz Azul does their own thing in Jasso, about an hour and a half north of Mexico City where the men’s team are located.

How is it different than NWSL?

While NWSL only has nine teams, Liga MX Femenil has 18. NWSL has a mix of teams that are affiliated with MLS teams (Orlando City and Orlando Pride, Utah Royals FC and Real Salt Lake, Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns) as well as independent teams (Sky Blue FC) and a team affiliated with a foreign club (OL Reign and Olympique Lyonnais of Ligue 1), but all Liga MX Femenil teams are affiliated with their Liga MX (varonil, or men’s) counterpart. Atlético San Luis is a bit of an exception, as both of Atleti’s femenil and varonil teams are owned by Atlético Madrid. Also, Liga MX Femenil is a free market. There’s no allocation of players or salary cap, so some teams spend a lot and others don’t, preferring to develop players in house.

As far as style of play, overall it’s a little more technically-focused than NWSL however don’t mistake focus from execution. Some teams pull it off, others are still works in progress. It can also be pretty physical, although perhaps not as much as NWSL.

How has the league evolved?

Originally divided into two groups, the league is now single table with the top eight teams playing in a Liguilla (playoff). Teams also could only sign players born in Mexico, but this has changed to allow teams to sign dual nationals. Most teams have Mexican-American players, and there is a Mexican-Colombian player (Tijuana’s Valentina Oviedo) and a Mexican-Argentine player (Pachuca’s Delfina Santellan) as well. As of this season, all players registered must be 15 years old or older. In prior seasons, players as young as 14 had gotten professional minutes.

How can I watch?

All games are broadcast in Mexico. In the United States, TUDN broadcasts a select number of games most weeks. Chivas also shows all of their home games on their ChivasTV streaming service. Otherwise, fans have sometimes turned to less-than-legal streams.

Teams

América: Like their varonil counterparts, América are always expected to be one of the best teams in the tournament. They’ve added Jocelyn Orejel and Verónica Pérez from Tijuana to bolster their bid for a second championship and should be considered one of the favorites going into the tournament. Manager Leonardo Cuéllar managed the Mexican national team prior to joining América. Along with Pachuca’s Eva Espejo and Pumas’ Yleana Dávila, Cuéllar was around prior to the start of Liga MX Femenil. Their main rivals are Chivas (November 16), Pumas (October 3), and Cruz Azul (August 14).

Atlas: A fun team to watch, Atlas has steadily improved over the seasons to become a serious contender to win a cup. Left winger Fabiola Ibarra is one of the best players in the league, and the core consisting of goalkeeper Ana Gaby Paz, midfielder Zellyka Arce, and forwards Adriana “Boyi” Iturbide and Alison González make this a fun team to watch. Their main rivals are Chivas, who they’ll play on October 11.

Atlético San Luis: One of the newest teams in the league with FC Juárez, Atleti has a very passionate fan base, often drawing in excess of 10,000 fans. Most of their team is comprised of young players developed at the club. Their main rivals are Querétaro, who they’ll play on Friday, August 16.

Club Tijuana: Located a short ride on public transit from downtown San Diego, Tijuana always seems to be a team in flux. This season will see Franky Oviedo take the reins, making him the first to manage both the femenil and varonil first team (he was interim manager for Tijuana back in 2018). Renae Cuéllar is probably the most recognizable name, however goalkeeper Itzel González has featured for the national team and forwards Karen Maprigat and Inglis Hernández have tons of potential. They have a minor rivalry with León, who they’ll play on Monday, August 17.

Cruz Azul: Cruz Azul is another team that has steadily improved over the past couple of seasons, largely developing players from within. Midfielders Sharon Barba and Susana Romero and forward Alejandra Curiel are the engine of the offense, while central defender Karla Zempoalteca was just acquired from León to help shore up the defense and Karime Abud will provide a strong veteran presence in the attacking midfield. América is their main rival, and they’ll play Friday, August 14.

FC Juárez: Literally across the Rio Grande River from El Paso, Juárez is another new team in the league. Largely drawing from local talent, they did manage to get Alexia Frías from Monterrey and she’s been their biggest offensive threat. Juárez also picked up goalkeeper Alondra Ubaldo from Toluca in the offseason, who was stellar over the past couple of seasons. They’re still a developing team, but they’ve also been entertaining to watch.

Gallos Blancos de Querétaro: Normally referred to just as Querétaro, this is a team that after a few seasons has stepped up its game. Querétaro recently poached Carla Rossi from Tijuana, widely regarded as one of the best young coaches in Mexico. Striker Karym Iturbe has been their best player, and she’s joined by midfielder Luz Ruíz and defender Alondra Camargo, who joined during the offseason from Toluca. Their main rival is Atlético San Luis, who they play on Friday, August 16.

Guadalajara: Better known as Chivas, they’ve consistently been one of the better teams in the league. Lead by captain Tania Morales, Chivas has a wealth of talented players, from goalkeeper Blanca Félix and center back Janelly Farías to midfielder Maria Sanchez and forwards Norma Palafox and new addition Carolina Jaramillo from Tigres. They’ve also got a new coach, Édgar “El Chore” Mejía, who will have to live up to the high expectations the fans have for their club. They have big rivalries with América (the Clásico Nacional is on November 16) and Atlas (October 11).

León: Known as La Fiera (the beast), they’re another team that has improved the quality of their team over the past couple of seasons. They looked to take a huge step forward during the offseason, adding Lucero Cuevas and Esmeralda Verdugo from Tijuana, Diana García from Pachuca, and Karla Zempoalteca and Yamile Franco from Toluca. They should be fun to watch this season. They have a minor rivalry with Tijuana, who they play on Monday, August 17.

Mazatlán: Just started during the offseason from the ashes of Monarcas Morelia, they’re a complete unknown quantity. Morelia looked to be a team ready to qualify for its first playoff berth, but not all of the players followed the team to Mazatlán. There are some decent players, such as Nallely Magaña and Liliana Hernández remaining from Monarcas who will be joined by Yahaira Flores from Santos Laguna as well as some other new additions.

Necaxa: Known as Las Centellas (The Sparks, a play on the varonil team’s nickname Los Rayos or The Lightning Bolts), Necaxa have a very good coach in Fabiola Vargas and are showing signs of improvement. Goalkeeper Balbina Treviño retired during the offseason, so there will be some big shoes for Doris Meza to fill. They have some promising young players in Lessli Horta, Dulce Alvarado, and Valeria Meza.

Pachuca: A team that’s always in the conversation for contenders, Pachuca has always been synonymous with the great Monica Ocampo. But at 33, Ocampo has seen her minutes diminish over the past couple of seasons as a new crop of players comes up. Viridiana Salazar is an exciting player, with a nose for goal that makes her one of the most dangerous players in the league. Pachuca also has forward Lizbeth Ángeles and midfielders Gloria Narváez, Delfina Santellan, and Paola López that can create chances and score. Manager Eva Espejo is also the one that’s been in her position the longest, taking the reins before the league ever played its first match.

Puebla: Another team who showed signs of improvement last season, Puebla is lead by goalkeeper Brissa Rangel, midfielder Mirelle Arciniega, and ex-Washington Spirit forward Lupita Worbis and has plenty of young talent like forward Emily González and midfielder Lia Morán. This will be a fun team to watch grow and develop.

Rayadas: Monterrey’s femenil team are the reigning champions and one of the best teams in North America. Desirée Monsiváis has 56 goals in her career and lead the league twice. They also brought in goalkeeper Alejandría “Alex” Godínez from Pachuca, Monica Flores from Valencia in Spain’s Primera Iberdrola, and midfielders Yamilé Franco and Diana García from León to add to an all-star lineup. They’re a fun team to watch and follow. Their main rivals are Tigres, who play across town. The Clásico Regiomontano between the two teams will take place on Saturday, November 14 and prior incarnations have drawn in excess of 50,000 fans in attendance.

Santos Laguna: A team that likes to develop players from within, Santos has struggled in seasons past but has an exciting core of players. Attacking midfielder Cinthya Peraza is the heart and soul of the team, and her free kick ability is second only to her vision on the pitch. Peraza and goalkeeper Wendy Toledo have gotten call-ups to the Mexico national team, and midfielders Alexxandra Ramírez, Olga Trasviña, and Daniela Delgado are promising young players who are worth keeping an eye on. Santos also recently added forward Alexia Villanueva from América, right back Karla Estala from Toluca, midfielders Paloma Velázquez and Perla Navarrete, and center back Lucero Lara from Monarcas, all of whom should be able to make an instant impact.

Tigres UANL: The team who has won the league the most times (twice) and been in the finals the most (four times), Tigres is another team that wouldn’t look out of place in NWSL or most European leagues. This is a deep team, and most players have had a callup from the national team. Stefany Mayor and wife Bianca Sierra have both played in Europe, as has Greta Espinoza, Nayeli Rangel, and Natalia Gómez Junco. Sierra, Espinoza, Cristina Ferral, and Gómez Junco all played soccer in the US collegiate system. Their most dangerous players are Katty Martínez and Jacqueline Ovalle, both of whom have been linked with NWSL teams at points in the past. Martínez will miss some time after coming down with COVID-19, however she said in a post on social media that she is asymptomatic. They’re a fun bunch of players, and the Clásico Regio against Tigres is (in the author’s opinion) the biggest women’s soccer rivalry in the world.

Toluca: Toluca has been on the cusp of becoming a playoff team but has fallen short. Lead by center back Yamanic Martínez, their main strength is their defense, which was augmented with the acquisition of center back Arlett Tovar from Santos. Goalkeeper Dayan Téllez will be the number one with the departure of Alondra Ubaldo to Juárez, and she performed well over the past couple of seasons when Ubaldo was out. On offense, Natalia Mauleon and Mariel Román provide a strong one-two punch.

UNAM Pumas: Pumas has been up-and-down over the past couple of seasons, but looked to have stabilized on the up-side of things last season. Manager Yleana Dávila has assembled a decent team made up of young homegrown players like goalkeeper Melany Villeda, winger Elizabeth Garrido, and midfielder Laura Herrera as well as veterans like forward Jaquelín García, defenders Deneva Cagigas and Dirce Delgado, and forward Anisa Guajardo, who played for the Boston Breakers as well as teams in Australia, Iceland, and Sweden before joining Pumas. Their main rivals are Club América in the Clasico Capitalino (both teams are located in Mexico City), and that game is on October 3.