As featured on NewsNow: Football news

The Week in Women Football: Nikkole Teja exclusive - retirement, social media & potential Queens League signing

This week, talks exclusively with a young American-born Liga MX Femenil player who recently retired at the age of 24; Nikkole Teja discusses her unique path to a professional career and her thoughts on what she will do next, within and outside of football, where she has a huge following on social media.

We also have a review of the first two editions of the Oceania Women's Champions League for club champions in the region, which have been held within the last nine months.

Nikkole Teja retires from professional football at Liga MX Femenil's Puebla at the age of 24

Early in January, we summarized the imports in Mexico's Liga MX Femenil this season, including new signings during the winter transfer window, one of which was American-born midfielder Nikkole Teja joining Puebla of Mexico after a few seasons with Necaxa (see:

Nikkole Teja surprised women's football followers by retiring from the professional game on January 23 after only 19 days with her new club Puebla, at the age of 24, spurring a rash of speculations as to why she made that decision, some of which were quite misogynistic in tone. talked exclusively to Nikkole Teja in mid-March about her unique route into Liga MX Femenil, her reasons for retiring and what some of her future plans are, including possible involvement in indoor football. She also sheds light on the fact that not all clubs in Mexico are fully committed to the women's game—a result of a heavily machismo culture which this column has discussed in the past—including incidents of abuse and intimidation of women in the game. This is certainly not a problem specific to Mexico and this column has documented the NWSL's raft of incidents of player abuse and intimidation dating back years, along with their intensive efforts to improve the working culture for women players and staff over the past couple of years.

Opps—unfortunately, a day after I wrote this line, the Houston Dash fired goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson for "crossing professional boundaries with a [Dash] player," violating the league's anti-fraternization policy for coaches, that was implemented to stem the rampant abuse and inappropriate behaviors of coaches and other team administrators. Clearly there is work that still needs to be done within the league and particularly for the Dash, which received a lot of negative press via the Yates Report conducted for U.S. Soccer and the League's own investigative report a few years ago.

Nikkole Teja took a different route than many have in pursuing her goal to play professional football, moving on her own to Mexico after finishing high school at the age of 18 in the Seattle, Washington area, enrolling at Arkansas State University in Queretaro in Central Mexico, a school that offered classes in English. She did not speak any Spanish at the time but thought that it was a great country to pursue a professional soccer career and her college education in.

She had finished high school and had an Associates of Arts degree from a Seattle-area Community College as part of an accelerated program. She had played at a number of high-profile youth club tournaments on the West Coast, including the Surf Cup, Disney's Tournament and in the ECNL (Elite Club National League). She was reticent to continue soccer in the States via college because of some inappropriate behavior by coaches that she had seen on teams as a youth player, which is a sad reflection of these horrid behaviors that have yet to be eradicated from the game at multiple levels. While in Queretaro, she continued to play football while trying to latch onto a professional side. When she first came to Mexico, Liga MX Femenil did not allow non-Mexican internationals to play in the league (it wasn't until the third season in 2019-20 that foreign-born players of Mexican descent were allowed to sign with clubs and then only in 2021-22 when two imports per team were allowed—increased to four per team a year later as the league, propelling the league into a global destination for players, even a number of 2023 WWC participants).

Teja said that: "It was something magical—they had just opened the women's league here… I wanted to play pro; that was always my goal." With her college team in Queretaro, she found that the girls' level of play was: "all over the place," from players who were new to the game to veteran players. She thus ended up playing 8-9 games a week on various local teams, training and just trying to make connections to advance her professional hopes.

The Queretaro professional women's team eventually showed interest but, because she did not have Mexican lineage (her heritage is Indian from Southeast Asia and Italian, Spanish and Swiss), she could not apply for a Mexican passport. Then the COVID pandemic hit in 2020 and 2021 and really slowed down her process with both Queretaro and during tryouts with Cruz Azul in Mexico City and Pachuca, the football-mad historic mining city a few hours north of Mexico D.F. Pachuca wanted to sign her but as the transfer window loomed, a U.S. Soccer Federation document—confirming that she was not tied to another team and was free to sign in Mexico—failed to arrive in time and she was limited to just practices.

She still found her time at Pachuca invaluable as she trained with talented players, including Mexican international Charlyn Corral, who scored the most league goals among women players globally last season with 34 and was second in the world for total goals (including national team tallies) with 39, behind Malwai international Temwa Chawinga with 63, who just moved from China to join the Kansas City Current (see last week's column: The Week in Women's Football: NWSL ins/outs as Houston welcome coach Alonso from Celtic - Tribal Football). Early in her career Corral played with FC Indiana in the WPSL in the States.

Teja then signed professional forms with Necaxa, the former Mexico City side who moved to Aguascalientes some years ago, and was with the club for three seasons, playing in 33 games. Necaxa was quite happy with her play and she had one more year on her contract; Necaxa even wanted to add two more years to her agreement, but she stepped away for a half year from the game following the 2022-23 Clausura (Closing) Championship. She felt that Necaxa was not particularly invested in their women's team (during a weekly mandated team meal, the players had to pay for it).

In the meantime, she continued to grow her social media presence, calling it: "a great tool." As of our discussion on March 17, she had an incredible 518,000 followers on Instagram, which are stellar numbers as she has been building her brand nicely. By comparison, 2023 Women's World Cup Winner and Championship Game MVP Olga Carmona of Spain has 594,000 Instagram followers. Though Teja is not yet in the range of international stars such as 2023 WWC Winners and former Pachuca forward and now at Tigres Jenni Hermoso (1.1 Million), 2023 FIFA Player of the Year Aitana Bonmati (1.5 Million), Australian international and Chelsea's Sam Kerr (1.8 Million) and American two-time WWC winner Alex Morgan—who is in a different category with over 10 million followers—Teja's numbers are quite impressive given her youth, the fact that she is not an international and has been playing for only a few years with Mexican sides who are not among the traditional league leaders.

Teja certainly has the social media base to monetize her online presence through sponsorships and branding work both in Mexico and the U.S. She has added a bottled water company as a recent sponsor in Mexico. Most players in Liga MX Femenil need ancillary revenues as most players—with a few exceptions—are receiving at the high end only a few thousand U.S. dollars a month. Her goals are to have 600,000 followers by September and 675,000 by the end of this year. She recently posted a video that increased her account by 50,000 members.

Teja joined Puebla for the 2023-24 Clausura Championship, but decided to retire less than a month later. Though she loved the city and the players, she wasn't happy and having retired, she now feels at peace: "I just wanted to play soccer. It wasn't about fame or any of that. I wanted to play another year or two and call it good… Just to live out the dream that I worked so hard for. I never got to live it and enjoy it in Necaxa. I was not happy… I love football. I have nothing to prove to anyone else anymore. I went pro, regardless that people say that 'It is just because she's pretty or she knew someone or she paid' but obviously none of that is true. You don't have to be a pro to play soccer. Making it as a pro was a goal. I know what I accomplished. I worked so hard to achieve that."

With her strong social media presence, there has been speculation in the Mexican media that she was retiring to devote more time to her Only Fans (OF) adult subscription service website, where she has over 80 private pictures and videos, and is misconstrued as strictly a porn site. OF is utilized by some models but it is essentially a U.K.-based site in which the content is user-generated and monetized through subscription services.

Teja said: "There are people that are chefs and have videos about cooking for example."

She was finding that other social media pages in Mexico wrote articles about her but utilized only her non-soccer pictures, and some even used software modification tools to turn them into sexualized photos. She explained to this author that she started her Only Fans account as merely an adjunct to her Instagram site, with has shots of her soccer career and at the beach—which is similar to what many players have on their social media accounts—and "not sexually explicit" material.

Her OF page was a reaction to those who were profiting from her image, so she thought she should do the same in an official fashion, which was a very savvy tactic in terms of her branding. She denies that her social media sights are pornography and that, when she moved to Puebla, the club (and the league) was aware of her OF page and had no issues with it.

Teja explained her decision to retire on Instagram at the time: "I came to this country alone, at the age of 18, without knowing anyone and without speaking the language. But I always had a dream to play football professionally and here I was able to achieve that. There's nothing left to prove to anyone else or myself. I know my worth as a player, daughter, friend and most of all as a person. I won't regret giving it up. But yes I will regret experiences I had to go through but some were out of my control. I've made the hard decision to retire from professional football. Thank you to everyone who was part of this journey and always supported me. You guys helped me through my darkest times, but you were also there through some of the best times of my life… It's time to move onto the next thing in my life."

She added that she would focus on: "personal projects independent from soccer."

It was the last line that the Mexican media jumped on and inferred that she was going to model on porn sites, which is not what she is doing. She told "I love soccer and will always be involved [in the sport]."

One of the football-related opportunities that she is exploring, which she is excited about, is the launch this year of the Queens League in Mexico. The Queens League, launched in Spain in 2023 and is expanding to Mexico in 2024; it is the women's version of the Kings League which was started in 2022 by Gerald Pique, the former World Cup and European Championship winner with Spain in 2010 and 2012, respectively, and who won European Champions League titles at Barcelona (three) and Manchester United (one). Pique's leagues are seven-a-side that started in Spain and include former footballers, other celebrities and influencers. It has received huge viewing numbers on Twitch, YouTube and TikTok.

For example, the 'final four,' which ended the first half of the debut Kings League season, drew 92,000 to the Camp Nou and more than two million people watched online over Twitch, TikTok and YouTube. The leagues include video-game inspired rules, adapting to traditional indoor football rules, with two 20-minute halves. Some of the innovative rules include, in minute 18 of the first half, officials throw a huge die on the field and then remove the same number of players from each team, forcing the remaining players to play shorthanded. Yellow cards see a player benched for two minutes, with red cards sending a player off and not allowing a substitute to enter for five minutes.

The new leagues also feature several "Secret Weapon" cards that allow coaches to take a penalty kick or have goals count for two points instead of one. Sam Merida, a former first division footballer in Spain, played in the league last year and said: "In the end, you can enjoy soccer regardless of gender. I hope that once and for all, we can stop talking about men's soccer and women's soccer, and simply talk about soccer."

Current Liga MX Femenil goalkeeper Alejandria Godinez said last year that she was pleased that the Queens League was coming to Mexico: "I think it's great, I just saw it two days ago, but it's cool, to be honest. When the Kings League started, I never thought there would be one; it didn't even cross my mind that there was going to be a female version, but it's amazing… It's great that they were able to start this. I think that the more opportunities there are for women in the world, obviously that's welcome, so it's excellent that there will continue to be more opportunities like those." Players in leagues and associations aligned with FIFA cannot play in the league, but Teja can, as a free agent.

The effort by some in the media and social media to pigeonhole Teja as only a soccer player or into a pre-set post Liga MX Femenil career is not fair but unfortunately is part of the culture, as she explains that: "I love Mexico but there is a perception that women can only be one thing—such as [playing] soccer—and nothing else."

She is looking forward to exploring a variety of career options and activities.

Nikkole Teja has achieved her dream of playing professional soccer, is close to finishing her college degree and has a huge social media presence which she is continuing to leverage. Though she has stepped away from Liga MX Femenil play, she still wants to be involved in the game. Her interest in participating in Gerald Pique's Queens Cup is a unique opportunity. will update readers on this tournament later this year, Nikkole Teja's participation and other activities as well as the possibility of importing this new league's concept to other markets.

Teja's positivity and effort to ignore misogynist social media and traditional media's incorrect assumptions about her show that—despite the unfortunate situations she has dealt with thanks to her high visibility—she has been and will continue to be successful. She has also pointed out the need to be vigilant about clubs prioritizing women's football and cultivating safe player environments at multiple levels in the U.S. and Mexico. She said succinctly: "It's [about] respect—a feeling that we have a right to be there."

Nikkole Teja showed courage in moving to a new country for which she did not know the language at 18 and achieved her goal of playing professionally. Six years later, she has again been courageous in retiring from the game and plotting a new path after her football career, involving her strong social media presence and activities such as Queens League Football, that go against the norm. Rather than the skepticism she has received from the media, she should be viewed as a pioneer for presenting options for women players to pursue after they decide to leave the game, no matter when they do it; she should be applauded for her vision.

OFC Women's Champions League 2023 and 2024 Review

Last week we discussed the new CONCACAF Women's Club Championship that will start with 11 teams for the 2024-25 season (see last week's column: The Week in Women's Football: NWSL ins/outs as Houston welcome coach Alonso from Celtic - Tribal Football) and earlier this year African Club Championship (see: The Week in Women's Football: Chatting with stars of Gold Cup Finals; Tyrone Mears joins USL trailblazers - Tribal Football) and as always the UEFA Champions League throughout the long season (see: The Oceania Football Confederation actually launched a Women's Champions League in June 2023—while most of the world's media was focused on the Women's World Cup preparation for July and August in Australia and New Zealand. It was held in Papua New Guinea and six teams were originally invited:

  • Labasa—the 2022 Fiji Super League Champions
  • AS Academy—the 2022 New Caledonia National Championship winners
  • Hekari United—Papua New Guinea—the 2021-22 PNG Women's National Soccer League winners
  • Kiwi—the Samoa 2022 Women's National League champions
  • Koloale—the 2022 Solomon Island Women's Premier League champions
  • Eastern Suburbs—the 2022 New Zealand Women's National League Grand Final winners from Greater Auckland withdrew before the tournament began because of travel logistics, costs and other issues. Thus, the OFC had a non-New Zealand champion of a regional competition, which happens only when New Zealand doesn't participate (like in the 2022 OFC Women's Nations Cup, which doubled as qualifying for the 2023 WWC—which New Zealand was already in as co-host—with PNG going on to win the tournament). No disrespect to the Football Ferns, but as we saw recently in the OFC national team Olympic Qualifying (see: The Week in Women's Football: Mexico celebrate USA shock; Spain win Nations League - Tribal Football), the gap is so wide between New Zealand and the other OFC nations that there has to be an avenue to encourage them to participate and see a realistic path into world finals. The New Caledonian side AS Academy, which won the title, now has a place at the first FIFA Women's Club World Cup, which is expected to launch in the next year or so.

AS Academy of New Caledonia won the 2023 title by going undefeated in the five team final group, winning their first game over ultimate second place side and host team Hekari United (2-1), which was the PNG's side only loss in the tournament. Papua New Guinea international midfielder Marie Kaipu (26) of Hekari United captured the Golden Boot with 9 goals.

The second edition of the Tournament for 2024 was just held in March (10-23) in the Solomon Islands with 8 teams participating, breaking up into two four-team first round groups. Teams competing included repeats from last year:

  • Labasa of Fiji, repeating as Women's Super League Champions in 2023
  • Reigning champions AS Academy of New Caledonia, who again won the national championship in 2023
  • Hekari United of PNG, again after winning the Women's National Soccer League in 2023

First-time teams to the continental women's club championship included:

  • Avatiu of Cook Islands, who won the 2023 Rarotonga Club Championship
  • Auckland United of New Zealand who were the 2023 Women's National League Grand Final winners
  • Henderson Eels of the host nation Solomon Islands, who won the 2023 Women's Premier League
  • Veitongo of Tonga, who won the 2023 Tonga Women's Major League
  • Tafea of Vanuatu, who won the Women's Champions League in 2023

A team from Samoa did not compete in 2024, as they did in 2023.

Representatives of each of the eight participants in the 2024 Oceania Football Confederation's Champions League gather in Honiara, Solomon Islands in March, 2024.

Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek

In Group A Hekari United and Tafea advanced to the semifinals with 7 points each, with home nation side Henderson Eels third on 3 points and Avatiu fourth on 0 points. Hekari United finished first with a (+8) goal difference to Tafea's (+5). In the final group matches on March 16, Hekari defeated Avatiu 5-0 in front of 200 fans at the Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara, with PNG international forward Marie Kaipu (26) scoring two goals. Tafea defeated home side Henderson Eels 3-0 in front of 312 fans, the second largest crowd of the tournament, after 350 turned out on March 13 for the Eels' 3-0 loss to Hekari United, with Kaipu scoring the winning goal in the 20th minute.

In Group B, Auckland United of New Zealand (7 points) and Labasa of Fiji (5 points) advanced to the semifinals, over AS Academy of PNG (4) and Veitongo of Tonga (0 points). In the crucial final group day on March 17, Auckland defeated Veitongo 1-0 with a single goal by Poppy O'Brien (17) in the 29th minute, in front of 150 people. In the second match, with 208 attending the National Stadium in Honiara, Labasa and AS Academy finished with a goalless deadlock. AS Academy needed the win to advance to the semifinals and thus were eliminated so the tournament will see a new champion in its second season.

On the first match day on March 12, in the rain in Honiara, Labasa scored a penalty in the last ten minutes to tie Auckland United. Bree Johnson (23) scored for Auckland after the hour mark but then in the 77th minute Auckland United goalkeeper Amberley Hollis (26) brought substitute Adi Anasimeci Volitkoro (18) down—who plays at home for Labassa at the Inter-district level and goes to Waiqele College in Fiji—when chasing a loose ball, and Vaniha Kumar (29) netted the resultant penalty into the top corner of the net. Kumar was born and grew up in Australia and turned down an opportunity to play for a youth national team there so she could play with Fiji. The teams also struggled with the heat and humidity in the capital city

In the first matchday on March 12, AS Academy won 4-1 over Vietongo, though the Tongan side opened the scoring in the 20th minute after AS Academy misplayed a long ball and Leeann Taufa'ao fe Ana Polovili scored from close range. AS Academy tied the match 10 minutes later from a blast from outside the penalty area by captain Alice Wenessia. AS Academy broke open the game with three quick goals starting in the 86th minute, with another goal from Wenessia.

In the second set of matches, Rene Wasi (21) scored a hat trick for Auckland United within the first hour of the match—two in the first half—in their 5-0 win over AS Academy. Wasi won the New Zealand Women's Premier League Grand Final Player of the Match Award for the 2023 season last November. Born in Papua New Guinea, Wasi is a U-20 Football Fern international and joined Auckland United from Northern United, where she had previously won a league title.

Rene Wasi scored a hat trick for Auckland United within the first hour of the match—two in the first half—in their 5-0 win over AS Academy in the 2024 Oceania Football Confederation Champions League tournament in Solomon Islands. Photo Credit: OFC Media via Phototek.

Also, on March 14 during the second Group B matchday, Narieta Leba's first-half double for Labasa Women FC was the first win for the Fijian side at the tournament and knocked the Tongan side out of the semifinal race,

In the semifinals on March 20, both matches were exciting and went to extra time, seeing Hekari United defeating Labasa (2-0 aet) and Auckland United overcoming Tafea (2-1 aet). PNG's Hekari United finally broke through in the 100th minute when Nenny Elipas (18) pounced on a poorly cleared Labasa clearance, with Christie Maneu scoring 14 minutes from time to seal the match. In the other match, Auckland United went ahead early in the match with a headed goal from defender Talisha Green (23) from a midfielder Danielle Canham (19) corner.

Tafea goalkeeper Christie Maneu was stellar, keeping her side in the game despite some dangerous Auckland attacks. Tafea tied it up from late in the second half from substitute Liyo Eramol's (21) scissor kick in the 82nd goal. In the thirty minute extra time, Danielle Canham then scored for Auckland in the 104th minute to send her side to the Championship Final match on the weekend against Hekari United at the National Stadium. Both games were at the National Stadium in Honiara and the Hekari-Labasa match attracted 250 fans, with 100 more at the Auckland United-Tavea match.

Auckland United won the final of the 2024 OFC Women's Champions League with a 1-0 win over PNG's Hekari United, with Bree Johnson (23) scoring the winning goal in the 25th minute. The game attracted 510 fans, a tournament high, though watching the game live online on FIFA+, it looked much smaller. That said, it is very important for smaller nations in the region to continue to host women's football tournaments, in order to inspire youngsters to play and their parents and friends to encourage them to pursue the activity.

The tournament's Golden Boot winner was forward Jane Alatoa (26) of Vanuatu side Tafea FC with four goals. Tafea had a very good run in the tournament, making the semifinals and taking Auckland United to extra time before falling 2-1. It will be interesting to see how Vanuatu can build on their strong performance here, both at the club and national team level. Auckland swept the other honors, winning the team fair play award, while Amberley Hollis won the Golden Glove as the best goalkeeper and Talisha Green won the Golden Ball as the MVP of the tournament.

Though we saw another New Zealand champion of an Oceania regional women's football tournament, three of Auckland United's four tournament wins were by only one goal, including both knockout stage matches, along with a tie in the Group Stage. At the club level, there is clearly more parity within the Oceania region, particularly as New Zealand's league is amateur, the same as those of the other member nations at this tournament. That is a good sign for the future of women's football in the region and as the announcer of the final game said: "Football is the Winner." We look forward to an even more competitive 2025 event in Oceania.

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

Video of the day:

Tim Grainey
About the author

Tim Grainey


Subscribe and go ad-free

For only $10 a year

  1. Go Ad-Free
  2. Faster site experience
  3. Support great writing
  4. Subscribe now
Launch Offer: 2 months free

Subscribe and go ad-free

For only $10 a year

Subscribe now
Launch Offer: 2 months free