This week, we review the Mexican Women's League Closing Championship Final, which saw a global attendance record for a women's club match, and a final worthy of legendary status. We also discuss the International Champions Cup adding a women's club tournament for this summer in the U.S. The NWSL has also announced that the Portland Thorns will host the 2018 NWSL Final in September.
Liga MX Femenil Clausura Championships in Mexico
In one of the most exciting two leg matches this reporter has viewed in a long time, Tigres UANL tied city rival Monterrey 2-2 in both legs (April 27 and May 4) of the Clausura Title games (4-4 on aggregate) at the end of the first season of the Liga MX Femenil; Tigres then won the crown in the penalty shootout (4-2).(see video highlights for the second match at: https://youtu.be/pmBP75_3HRw ). Even more than the mesmerizing second leg which Monterrey tied in injury time through Norali Armenta to bring about the penalty kick decider, the second leg was viewed by a sellout crowd of 51,211 in Monterrey, the highest ever crowd to view a women's club match. This match and that crowd hopefully will be viewed as a landmark event for the game in Mexico and throughout Latin America. Particularly in Mexico, the game has struggled to find acceptance in a machismo culture, from parents who don't see such an aggressive sport as appropriate for women or as a suitable career path. Interestingly, the same weekend, the Women's FA Cup in London drew 45,423 to see Chelsea win the title 3-1 over Arsenal, which was the third largest club crowd ever, after Lyon's 2-0 victory over Frankfurt UEFA Women's Champions League final in 2012 in front of 50,212. Back in Mexico, the first leg of the Finals between Tigres and Monterrey attracted a crowd of 38,230 which is the fourth largest all time. Last year's FA Cup between Manchester City and Birmingham City is fifth at 35,271. A 2003 Spanish League game between Atletico and Hispalis (35,000) is sixth. Even though the NWSL's Portland Thorns averaged 17,653 for their regular season NWSL matches last season—the highest women's club team average in the world—the U.S. only has one crowd in the top ten list, for the WUSA opener in 2001 between the Washington Freedom and San Jose CyberRays. Colombia's Liga Professional Femenina match in 2017 between Santa Fe and Huila (33,327) was eighth, followed by the 2016 FA Women's Cup between Arsenal and Chelsea and last winter's Mexican league Apertura Final between Guadalajara and visiting Pachuca (32,466). It is telling that four of the top ten club game crowds for women are from Latin America, with three of them in Mexico within the past six months. This is a huge boost for the women's game and hopefully just the start of more bumper crowds (with resultant widespread respect for the athletes) both in Latin America and other regions of the world. (England, reflecting the recent success of their Women's National Team in the 2015 WWC and 2017 Euros, has three of the top crowds and all since 2016) and shows the long-term effects of building a strong national league, which helps create talent for the national league, creating a mutually beneficial cycle.
Club America repeated their success of the 2017-18 Apertura Group 1 Championship by winning Group 1 in the Clausura (Closing Championship), which finished in April, with 33 points from a 10-3-1 record. Toluca, an hour's drive west of Mexico City, finished second with 29 points (9-2-3). Toluca just pipped Pachuca (28 points) while Morelia finished at the bottom of the Group with no wins, 3 ties and only 3 points.
In Group 2, Monterrey led the league with 34 points (11-1-2) with Tigres UNAL of suburban Monterey second with 31 points (10-1-3). Guadalajara finished third with 29 points (9-2-3).
In the Clausura semifinals, Monterrey defeated Toluca 4-1 on aggregate, with a 4-1 win in the home leg and a 0-0 in the mountains of Toluca in the second leg. Tigres UANL upset Club America, reversing a 2-1 loss in the first leg in Mexico City with an emphatic 3-0 home leg. America lost in the semifinals of the Apertura last year to Guadalajara 6-4 on aggregate.
In the Apertura (Opening Championships last winter) Guadalajara defeated Pachuca on aggregate 3-2. Pachuca last summer won the Copa MX Femenilin May 2017—the official launch of the league—among 12 of the sixteen teams, defeating Tijuana 9-1 in the final.
In the Clausura season, the leading scorers were:
- Lucero Ximena Cueva—Club America—15
- Monica Desiree Monsivais—Monterrey—10
- Betzy Casandra Cueva—Club America—9
- Esbeydi Viridiana Salazar—Pachuca—8
- Lizbeth Angeles—Pachuca—8
- Leticia Vazquez—Leon—8
Monsivais played for a short time with BBIK in Kazakhstan in 2015.
International Champions Cup Adds a Women's Club Tournament
The International Champions Cup, a five-year-old preseason showcase event that has held games in the U.S., Europe and Asia and has included some of the top men's club teams in the world such as Barcelona, Manchester United and Juventus among others, is adding a women's tournament this summer. Chelsea, Manchester City, Paris Saint Germain and the North Carolina Courage will play two doubleheaders in Miami, with two semifinals on Friday July 27th and then a third place game and final on Sunday July 29, at the Hard Rock Stadium, the home of the NFL Miami Dolphins.
The small size of the tournament is a concerted effort by Relevent Sports, which owns the I.C.C., to focus on making the first year a success on the women's side even as it plans to double the teams taking part next year to eight. Many of the clubs that regularly compete in the I.C.C. now have professional women's teams, and Relevent's executive chairman, Charlie Stillitano, said they had been agitating for ways to get those squads exposure outside their home markets. When Relevent told its club partners that the women's event was finally happening, nearly a dozen teams asked to take part. "The response we got was extraordinary," Stillitano said. "Every team was like, 'Oh, can we send our women this year?' And we just couldn't, as an inaugural event, have 16 teams to launch it. This is just something we're going to have to grow. We're just trying to grow it properly."
Stillitano and Relevent's managing partner, Jon Sheiman, said part of the company's motivation was to invest some of the profits it had begun to make after years of successful summer tours back into the game, and particularly in the women's game. But Sheiman also said Relevent took pains not to appear to big-foot the American players, leagues and owners who have exerted considerable effort — and invested considerable sums — in backing professional women's soccer. So while they said they could have filled a four-team field with European squads quickly, Sheiman said it would have been "irresponsible" not to have a National Women's Soccer League team involved.
Before the inaugural weekend tournament in July, the women's teams from Europe will gather in Portland, Ore., for several days of training. The teams will work out privately but also alongside a small group of elite teenage American prospects. On July 25th, the four teams will take part in a public session with a round robin of 45-minute matches. The next day, the teams will join the Courage in Florida ahead of the I.C.C. doubleheaders.
This tournament will be an important international strength gauge for the Courage versus such high quality competition, who are running away with the league so far this season with a 5-2-0 record for 17 points, and have made the last two league finals, winning the crown in 2016. It should also help further the discussion in FIFA to finally have a sanctioned World Club Cup for Women.
Portland Thorns will host the 2018 NWSL Final
In other NWSL news, the league announced that the Portland Thorns will host the 2018 Championship match on Saturday September 22 at 1:30 pm local time, which will also be broadcast nationally on the Lifetime Network, a partner of the league.
Providence Park in Portland hosted the 2015 Championship match and drew 13,246 on a Thursday evening—even though Portland did not make the playoffs—to watch FC Kansas City upset the Seattle Reign 1-0. Providence Park is home to Thorns FC, the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer and T2 of the United Soccer League; the stadium seats 21,144 with plans to add approximately 4,000 seats for 2019. Thorns FC have led the NWSL in attendance in each of the league's first five seasons, averaging 17,653 fans during the 2017 campaign. Originally constructed in 1926, the stadium has hosted games in the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup, the 2014 Major League Soccer All-Star Game and the 2015 NWSL Championship.
Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.
Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey