The Week in Women's Football: A-League check; Mexico for Lehmann; Liga MX review

Tribal Football
The Week in Women's Football: A-League check; Mexico for Lehmann; Liga MX review
The Week in Women's Football: A-League check; Mexico for Lehmann; Liga MX review
The Week in Women's Football: A-League check; Mexico for Lehmann; Liga MX reviewAction Plus
This week, we look at some news from Australia’s A-League Women, including an end of season All-Star Game against Arsenal of the English Super League, the U-23 roster for Australia’s tour to Sweden in June and the award of the 2026 Women’s Asian Cup to Australia—in which one of the teams participating is expected to be China, who just hired former Matilda head coach Ante Milicic to head their WNT.

We also review the 2023-24 Clausura (Closing) Championship of Mexico’s Liga Femenil and have some player movement news and a new summer tournament with NWSL teams.

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Australia’s A-League Women News

A-League Women All-Stars face Arsenal Women in Melbourne friendly

On May 24, the A-League Women All Stars squad faced Arsenal Women of the WSL in Melbourne, part of a double-header that also featured a men’s A-League All-Star side playing Newcastle United of England, who two days earlier played Tottenham Hotspur in Gosford, who are coached by former men’s Australian national team coach and A-League title winner with Brisbane and Melbourne Victory Ange Postecoglou. 

Arsenal Women defeated the A-League Women All-Stars 1-0. English international Alessia Russo scored the only game of the game in the 40th minute from a header. In the first game, the A-League men’s all-star defeated Newcastle United of England 8-0, with the EPL side bringing a young side. The two sides drew a tremendous crowd of over 42,000 at the Marvel Stadium in Melbourne, a nice sign-off for the A-League’s 2023-24 seasons.

Eleven internationals were picked for the 19 player A-League Select side, including eight Matildas (Cortnee Vine, Michelle Heyman, Tameka Yallop, Alex Chidiac, Lydia Williams, Princess Ibini, Elise Kellond-Knight and Kyah Simon). Three Football Ferns from New Zealand were selected as well: Hannah Wilkinson, Michaela Foster and Rebekah Stott. The coach of the side is Australian native and former Arsenal, Juventus and Melbourne City Women head coach Joe Montemurro.  Other All-Stars for Australia were the 2023-24 Julie Dolan Medalist Sophie Harding of Western Sydney Wanderers and Player of the Grand Final Mackenzie Hawkesby of Sydney FC.

 

Australia U-23 roster for European friendlies in June is Liberty A-League focused

Australia’s Under-23 Women’s team featured in the Four Nations Tournament in Vaxjo, Sweden with 21 of the 24 selected players coming from the A-League Women. Australia met Sweden (May 29), Germany (June 1) and Poland (June 4) in Vaxjo.

U-23 Head coach Melissa Andreatta (ex-Brisbane Roar) brought the league’s Young Footballer of the Year Daniela Galic, who helped Melbourne City win the Premiership and reach the Liberty A-League Grand Final, one of five City players selected. Sydney FC Championship winner Shay Hollman along with this season’s Liberty A-League Goalkeeper of the Year Morgan Aquino of Perth Glory. Andreatta has an experienced core group with 11 members of the CommBank Young Matildas AFC U-20 Women’s Asian Cup 2024 bronze medal-winning squad 

All of the roster members were from the A-League Women—from 10 league teams, except for Wellington Phoenix and Brisbane Roar) except for three who were based abroad: 

- Polly Doran of recently promoted Crystal Palace in London in England’s second tier, 

- Milly Boughton of Tottenham Hotspur of the WSL

- Anna Margraf of Sporting Huelva of Spain.

 

2026 Women’s Asian Cup will be held in Australia

In other news from Australia, on May 15, Australia was chosen to host the 2026 Women’s Asian Cup at home, recommending sites in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia, with Victoria State/Melbourne not bidding for any games. No other Asian nations placed a bid for this important tournament which doubles as Women’s World Cup Qualification for the 2027 Women’s World Cup, which will be held in Brazil. This follows-up nicely on their unqualified success in co-hosting the 2023 Women’s World Cup with New Zealand.

On the men’s side, the Asian Cup was held in Australia in 2015, when the host nation defeated South Korea 2-1 after extra time in a tournament that was very well attended by fans and helped to boost the game in general in the country where it has struggled for years against Rugby League and Australian Rules Football.

 

The 2026 Women’s Asian Cup will feature 12 teams.

The Women’s Asian Cup was last held in Australia in 2006, with the Matildas going on to win the next edition in China in 2010. They also reached the final in 2014 and 2018, but got knocked out of the last edition in India in 2022 in the quarter-finals.

The AFC also announced that Uzbekistan will host the event in 2029, the first time the country has organized a senior continental tournament after hosting numerous Asian events at youth level.

 

Ante Milicic Takes China’s WNT job

Former Australia Women’s WNT head coach Ante Milicic (50)—in 2019 for the WWC Finals in France, in which the Matildas were dispatched in the Round of 16 by Norway on penalties—was surprisingly named at China’s Women’s National Team Head Coach, After the 2019 WWC, he has coached in the men’s A-League, surprisingly took the job as China WNT head coach last month. He has also served as an assistant coach for Australia’s men’s team under both now Tottenham Hotspur head coach Ange Postecoglou and Dutch native Bert van Marwijk. In 2015, he was a member of the coaching staff that helped the Socceroos win the AFC Asian Cup. He has not coached for two years since leaving Macarthur United of the A-League in April of 2022 to go to Croatia for family reasons.

The China Football Association explained that Milicic was selected after a month-long evaluation process. He replaces Shui Qingxia after the team did not qualify for this summer’s Paris Olympics. On March 19, the CFA announced a search for a new head coach, and by the deadline of April 3, a total of 43 coaches were shortlisted, including 42 international coaches and one domestic. That list was culled to nine candidates for interviews.

During the first round of interviews from April 15 to 22, candidates elaborated on their coaching philosophies and training plans within 90 minutes, and answered questions from the National Team Construction Advisory Group. Based on the votes, the top five entered the second round, from April 22-24, in which each selected two of the team’s recent matches to analyze problems and propose solutions within 45 minutes.

Two finalists were selected and the CFA held discussions about job responsibilities, appointment periods, salary, and living conditions, finding that Milicic was the best fit. His main goal will be to prepare the national team for the 2026 AFC Women’s Asian Cup, which conveniently will be held in his native Australia, which doubles as qualifiers for the 2027 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Milicic is indeed a curious selection as I never felt that Milicic was hugely committed to women’s football. He has a track record as a fine technical coach on the men’s side. He made controversial and head-scratching squad decisions for France 2019 and the China job is difficult—once a powerhouse in the game and the 1999 WWC Runners-up, they have struggled in recent editions. Though still one of the top five side in Asia, they lost at the Group Stage in 2023 WWC in Australia/New Zealand, lost in the Round of 16 in 2019 and made the Quarterfinals in smaller WWC tournaments in 2015, 2007 and 2003, after missing the 2011 finals completely.

A few players have performed well in England, Scotland and even in Spain and Australia but most of the squad is home-based and Milicic will have to spend a lot of time analyzing the local league’s games to find talent. He is a sharp coaching mind, but a long-term involvement in women’s football does not seem to fit him and may just be a stepping-stone to a men’s job at the national team or club level. This appointment and Milicic’s work in China will certainly be interesting to watch.

 

2023-24 Liga MX Femenil Clausura Review

Teams who also made the playoffs in the 2023-24 Apertura (Opening) Championship for Liga MX Femenil were champions UANL Tigres, Pachuca, Monterrey, Club America, Guadalajara and UNAM Pumas. In the Clausura, new qualifiers were Leon and Juarez, replacing Toluca and Tijuana; Juarez and Toluca finished tied on 27 points in the Clausura, but the border city across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas advanced with a slightly better goal difference (+12 to +10).

In the quarterfinals over two legs, the top seeds (or the top four from the Clausura regular season) all advanced, with Pachuca winning 4-1 and 1-0 at home for a 5-1 aggregate win over Leon, Club America defeating Guadalajara (2-0 and 4-1) to advance 6-1 on aggregate, Monterrey besting UNAM Pumas of Mexico City 2-0 and 1-0 for a 3-0 aggregate score and UANL Tigres narrowly knocking out Ciudad Juarez Bravos with a 1-0 away win and a deadlock in the second game at home (1-1) for a 2-1 aggregate win. For Monterrey, South African international Jermaine Seoposenwe (30), who played in 2022-23 for Juarez after stints in Portugal, Spain and Lithuania, played for the winners and Maricarmen Reyes Zarate (24), who was born in the U.S. and played at UCLA, scored the only goal of the first leg in front of 5,507 fans in Juarez.

In the second leg, Reyes scored the tying goal (and aggregate winner) in the 92nd minute, after Juarez had tied up the aggregate score in the 64th minute through Zambian international forward Prisca Chilufya (24). Chilufya is in the first year of a two year contract, having joined Juarez in the summer of 2023, after previously playing at home, in Kazakhstan and Turkey. Juarez’s Mexican youth international forward Blanca Solis (28) hit the far post but the ball rebounded back into play after a defensive error with the goalkeeper beaten in the 75th minute. Solis completed her second season with Juarez after four season with Tigres and has 20 goals in 128 regular season and playoff matches.

Reyes scored two goals in four matches for Tigres in the 2024 Clausura playoffs after scoring four goals in 14 games in the 2014 Clausura regular season; she scored 15 goals in 15 games during the 2023-24 regular season Apertura matches and one in six matches during the Fall season playoffs.

For Pachuca, their two lethal forwards of Nigerian Chinwendu Ihezuo and Mexican international Charlyn Corral added three goals to their combined 32 Clausura regular season goals (see below) with Ihezuo scoring a brace and Corral adding one against León in the 4-1 first leg away win in front of a strong crowd of 4,936 in the Central Mexican city. In the second leg, Corral scored the only goal in the 1-0 win to finish with a 5-1 aggregate victory.

In the semifinals, America met UANL in a repeat of the 2023 Apertura Final, which Tigres won 3-0 on aggregate, while Monterrey faced Pachuca. In the first leg on May 17, Club America defeated UANL 3-1 at their Mexico City Estadio Azteca home in front of 5,715 fans, with American Sarah Luebbert (26), the ex-University of Missouri and Chicago Red Stars forward, scoring two goals and the ultimate winner in the 67th minute. Mexican youth and senior international and CA team captain Kiana Palacios (28), an American who played at the University of California-Irvine and for three years in Spain with Real Sociedad, scored the final goal for Aguilas in the 81st minute; she has been with CA since the 2021/22 Apertura campaign. For Tigres, defender Lizbeth Ovalle (24), also a Mexican international who has played for Tigres since 2017, scored once.

In the second leg on May 20, Ovalle scored again for UANL in the 94th minute from the penalty spot for a 1-0 home win at the University Stadium with a crowd of 16,795, but Los Aguilas held on for a 3-2 aggregate victory to make the Clausura Finals, repeating their effort from the 2023-24 Apertura. They have won two titles in the past (Apertura 2018 and Clausura 2023) and lost two other finals. 

Monterrey defeated Pachuca 2-0 at home at Estadio BBVA with goals by Mexican international Myra Delgadillo (28)—who grew up in California, played at Fresno State University, in Serbia with Spartak Subotica, in Portugal with Braga and in Liga MX Femenil with Juarez in 2022-23 before moving to Monterrey last summer—and fellow Mexican national teamer defender Rebeca Bernal (26), who added the second goal from the penalty spot. She has played with Rayadas since 2017.

For the second leg on May 20, Monterrey went to Pachuca and came away with a resounding 4-2 win (6-2 on aggregate) in front of a 11,401 home crowd. Mexican youth international Alice Soto (18) gave Pachuca Tuzos hope of overturning the first leg disadvantage (2-0) with a 16th minute goal. Rayadas then overpowered the home side with a hat-trick from American Christina Burkenroad (30) and Mexican international Dania Nicole Perez (22), who scored once. Soto has 17 goals in 100 total regular season and playoff matches for Pachuca, who she joined in 2019-20 for the Clausura.

Burkenroad was born in California, played at Cal State-Fullerton and plays internationally for Mexico, winning her first cap in 2023. She also played with the Orlando Pride in the NWSL, for Grand Bode in Norway and Sparta Prague in Czech Republic. She has three goals in four Clausura playoff matches this season, five goals in seven regular season Clausura matches and overall has 79 goals in 151 Liga MX Femenil games since the 2020-21 Apertura. Burkenroad also played Champions League in Europe with Sparta Prague for two seasons before going to Mexico. Perez previously played for three seasons for Guadalajara before joining Monterrey for the 2020-21 Clausura season.

Monterrey won tournament titles in 2019 and 2021 (both Apertura campaigns) and lost in three other final appearances. This is their first final appearances since besting Tigres in 2021.

In the Clausura Final matches on May 23 and May 26, Monterrey and Club America each aimed for their third league title, still distant from Tigres’ record six wins, but another title would leave them alone in second place, with the defeated team still on two wins with Guadalajara out of 14 titles held to date after the 2023-24 Clausura final matches. Club America won the first leg 1-0 on May 24 in front of an Azteca Stadium crowd of 23,770. Kiana Palacios (27) scored the only goal of the game just before half-time. Palacios (see above) has five goals in 19 Clausura regular season and playoff matches, after scoring 13 times in 20 games during the 2023-24 Apertura regular season and playoffs for America.

In the second leg on May 27 in Monterrey in front of 31,478 fans at BBVA Stadium, Club America looked home and dry as American Sarah Luebbert scored in the 9th minute to give the Aguilas a 2-0 aggregate lead. Luebbert scored five goals in four Clausura playoff matches and six goals in 17 Clausura regular season matches. South African international Jermaine Seoposenwe halved the deficit on the 25th minute mark. Monterrey deadlocked the match on the death as Mexican international defender Rebeca Bernal scored from the penalty spot in the sixth minute of second half added time, after French international Aurelie Kaci was adjudged to have the ball with her arm (though to this live viewer it seemed quite accidental and barely a touch) while she was clearing a late corner kick.

After 30 minutes of extra time, Monterrey won the title 4-3 on penalties as Mexican international Yamile Franco (31), Bernal (26), Dutch international Merel Van Dongen (31) and Costa Rican international defender Valeria Del Campo (24) scored for Monterrey, while Guatemalan international winger Ana Lucia Martinez missed Rayadas third attempt. Van Dongen has over 60 caps for the Dutch side—she has played in Spain with Real Betis (two seasons) and Atletico Madrid (four seasons); she also played two seasons at the University of Alabama. She has been part of the last three Women’s World Cup Finals sides for the Netherlands. Martinez was part of the Houston Dash inaugural team in the NWSL in 2014 before moving to Spain and playing for years in Spain and Italy.

Mexican international Kimberly Rodriguez (25), Kiana Palacios (27) and Spanish international Andrea Pereira (30) scored for CA in the penalty kick session, while Mexican international defender Karen Luna (26) on the second spot kick and Aylin Avilez (21) on America’s fifth attempt both saw their shots saved by long-time Mexican international Pamela Tajonar (39), the latter with her trailing foot. Tajonar has played in the States with FC Indiana of the WPSL, the Arizona (Phoenix) Heatwave of the W-League, the Western New York Flash of the NWSL and for years in Spain as well as most recently with Celtic in Scotland. Rodriguez grew up in the States and played at Oklahoma State University. 

Pereira played in Spain with Espanyol, Atletico Madrid (where she won two league titles) and Barca (where she won three Liga F titles and the 2020-21 UEFA Women’s Champions League title) and is in her second season with America. Avilez has been capped at multiple youth national team levels by Mexico and has one cap with the senior team and prior to this season with America; she previously played for Monterrey beginning in 2018 until her move to Mexico D.F. 

Mexican international Charlyn Corral of Pachuca led the regular season with 19 goals for Pachuca, with fellow Mexican international Katty Martinez of Club America second on 15 goals. Corral contributed (via goals or assists) to 19 of her side’s 50 Clausura goals. American import Stephanie Ribeiro of UNAM Pumas was third on 14 goals, followed by Nigerian international Chinwendu Ihezuo of Pachuca with 13 and Mexican international Stephany Mayor of UANL on 12 goals. Mexican internationals represented seven of the top 11 scorers in the Clausura—with two American imports, one from Nigeria and one from Brazil—so unlike Saudi Arabia where none of the top 21 scorers were from Saudi Arabia but were all imports.

The Mexican league, since it started in 2017, has been a strong developer of Mexican international talent, including from their diaspora in the U.S. Current Mexico women’s national team Pedro Lopez, who is a native of Spain and was hired in 2022, explained: “Eighty or 90% of the players on my team are in Liga MX Femenil. It is a strong league that allows the Mexican player to find, both at a professional and sporting level, a good place to develop, and it is growing every year. Each season it gets better, and they’re also generating the tools for young players to also have the same competitive environment.”

 

Other Liga MX Femenil News

 

Evelyn Ijeh on loan from Tigres to Roma

For Tigres, it will be interesting to see if Swedish youth international forward Evelyn Ijeh returns to the side as she joined Milan of Italy’s Serie A on loan in February until the end of June 2024 and currently has four goals in 15 league and cup matches for the Italian side. She could be seen by Milan management as a nice long-term option to their veteran forwards—Swedish international Kosovare Asslani (34) and Danish international Nadia Nadim (36)—for the side that finished the season on top of the five team relegation stage table and sixth overall. In Mexico, Ijeh played in only seven matches in the 2023-24 Apertura in the regular season and playoffs, with no goals.

 

Three Mexican clubs are chasing Swiss international forward Alisha Lehmann

There have been reports that Club America is trying to sign Switzerland international Alisha Lehmann (25), who is currently with Aston Villa of the WSL in England. She currently has 16.6 million Instagram followers—the most of any female footballer—and over 10 million on TikTok. Last year, ahead of the 2023 WWC, Lehmann was rated the most popular women’s footballer in the world, ahead of American international Alex Morgan (currently 10 million followers on Instagram), Alexia Putellas of Spain and Barcelona with (3.4 million on Instagram) and U.S.-based Brazilian international Marta (currently 2.8 million on Instagram). Lehmann has been described by one Mexican tabloid newspaper as: “the most beautiful player in the world.”

Reports in England say that Querétaro and León are also trying to sign her. She is under contract with Aston Villa through the 2025-26 season but she did not score in 12 league matches last season and, for the right price, could be transferred. America has the monetary backing through their long-time ownership by international media company Televisa. Lehmann has struggled at times with Villa and we hope that this decision—if it happens—is made for squad decisions and not just to attract more fans because of her huge social media presence, which could easily become hyper focused on sexuality in the still male-dominated culture, as we discussed earlier this year. One newspaper report in Mexico felt that she could slot in on the right side of the attack opposite American Sarah Leubbert. If she does move to the Americas, it should be very interesting to track her affect on and off the field.

 

Other Prospective Moves to Mexico this summer involving Spanish 2023 WWC winners

As we went to press, there was speculation that Barcelona legend Alexia Putellas (30) would move to Mexico after an impasse in negotiations to renew her contract with Barcelona, but following Barcelona’s 2023-24 UEFA Champions League Win over Lyon of France (2-0), which we will discuss in next week’s column, she has signed with Barca for two more seasons, with an option for a third campaign in 2026-27.

Putellas’ teammate at the club and national team goalkeeper Sandra Panos (31) is rumored to be headed to Mexico, with Club America reportedly her intended destination, having been replaced as starter on both teams by Cata Coll (23)—as Panos was one of 15 players who boycotted the national team after the 2022 EUROs and was not brought in to the 2023 WWC Finals side by now dismissed head coach Jorge Vida.

 

NWSL and Liga MX Femenil teams will meet in the first Summer Cup tournament this summer

Six teams from Liga MX Femenil will play in the first Summer Cup tournament with NWSL teams, in the first tournament between the two leagues, based on total points during the two 2023-24 seasons: Tigres UANL, Club America, Guadalajara Chivas, Rayadas of Monterrey, Pachuca and Tijuana.

The Mexican sides will be divided into six groups with the 14 NWSL sides, with further knockout stages for the top four teams. The tournament will start in July.

 

 

Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham is on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey