all scores

‘There are no barriers’: Angel City, Mexico team up for historic game

María Sánchez stars as a forward for the Mexican national team and the Houston Dash of the NWSL. (Manuel Guadarrama/Getty Images)

This Labor Day, Angel City Football Club (ACFC) and the Mexican women’s national team (MWNT) will make history when they face off in the first annual Angelina Cup at Banc of California Stadium. The Sept. 5 event is believed to be the first-ever promoted match hosted by a women’s professional soccer team in its home stadium against a national team.

While women’s national teams have previously played friendlies in the U.S. against pro or semi-pro clubs, these matches are usually scrimmages and often occur behind closed doors. By contrast, this match is open to the public and will be broadcast on the TelevisaUnivision family of networks throughout the U.S. and Mexico.

ACFC president Julie Uhrman described the Angelina Cup as an innovative way to spread awareness for women’s soccer and its players and drive not only pay equity but also viewership, sponsorship and coverage equity. The plan is to use this event, which will evolve each year, as a springboard for the continued growth of women’s soccer worldwide.

“We view ourselves as a global brand,” Uhrman told Just Women’s Sports. “We view Angel City as part of the global world of soccer. We want to play with and against the best athletes in the world, and we want to bring these individual communities together to celebrate women, these athletes and this sport.”

When Soccer United Marketing first reached out with the partnership idea, it was a “yes from the word ‘go,’” Uhrman said. ACFC’s leadership team recognized this kind of event had never been done before and envisioned its massive potential to amplify women’s soccer.

“It’s that opportunity when you don’t let the distinction of a national team and professional team prevent two incredible communities and brands from coming together to create what is going to be an incredible match on the pitch,” Uhrman said.

Federación Mexicana de Futból (FMF) sporting director Gerardo Torrado told JWS that, similarly, his organization “didn’t think twice” when presented with the opportunity for partnership.

“We’ve seen it with the men’s team, how Mexican people around the world receive their national team,” Torrado said. “It’s a great opportunity to continue developing the women’s team — not just the players, but also the awareness, fan base and excitement around them.”

The partnership is a natural fit with Los Angeles’ rich Mexican culture and large Mexican population given the city’s geographic proximity to its southern neighbor. The Los Angeles and Mexican communities share a passion for soccer and field talented and exciting women’s teams.

The official logo of the Angelina Cup. (Courtesy of Angel City FC)

The event also presents enticing opportunities for the development of the MWNT, which ranked 26th in June’s FIFA World Rankings.

The match will give potential new fans in the U.S. a chance to see the MWNT play and club owners, scouting directors and coaches in the U.S. the ability to scout top Mexican talent. Conversely, it creates an opportunity for players in the U.S. to experience Mexican soccer and perhaps begin to explore the idea of playing in Mexico’s professional league, Liga MX Femenil.

Six years after the league kicked off in December 2016, Torrada described the current state of the women’s game in Mexico as “growing strong.” He said that the impressive performance of C.F. Pachuca, América and Chivas Guadalajara in the most recent tournament bodes well for a league that has traditionally been dominated by northern powerhouses Monterrey and Tigres.

Mia Fishel, the No. 5 draft pick of the Orlando Pride in December’s NWSL Draft, sent shockwaves through the league when she opted to sign with Tigres in January instead of joining the Pride. Likewise, the NWSL has welcomed high-profile players from Liga MX Femenil. Notably, star Mexican forward María Sánchez signed a two-year deal with the Houston Dash this past offseason after leading Tigres to the league final with five goals in three playoff games.

“This will show young girls in Mexico what level they can reach in the future and that they can work hard to make their dreams come true,” Torrado said. “They are going to have chances to play in important environments, and having young girls know that, will help us a lot.”

Torrado added that there are Mexican girls in the U.S. who wish to play for Mexico, and the event will give them a chance to be close to the MWNT.

Beyond Mexico and the U.S., the Angelina Cup, which features its own logo, cup and branding, will celebrate the interconnectedness of the women’s international soccer community.

“There are no barriers,” Uhrman said. “We are going to highlight the absolute best athletes.”

Community is everything for ACFC. At its founding, Uhrman said the first questions the club’s owners and leaders asked were: “Who is our community, and what can we do with and for our community that elevates the sport of women’s soccer and creates connections and an opportunity for them to come together?” The annual event is the latest example of ACFC deploying the power of collective action to make an impact on its local community and the global women’s soccer community. In May, ACFC struck up a historic partnership with Tigres Femenil that will see the clubs play each other in home-and-home friendlies over the next two years.

ACFC plans to engage the local community in activations leading up to the Angelina Cup, just as it did with its Pride initiatives last month and beyond. The idea is for supporters to have fun while doing good, a model that has proven extremely successful for ACFC during its inaugural NWSL season.

Torrado expects this first-of-its-kind event will open doors for other women’s national teams “to play really competitive matches against important professional teams.”

Uhrman, too, sees the Cup as just the beginning for transnational and cross-cultural collaboration in women’s soccer.

“(ACFC and the MWNT) do have the benefit of geography,” she said, “but I could argue that there are teams in Europe and Latin America and in other places where there is commonality, and sport brings people together.”

Joshua Fischman is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering Angel City FC and the Los Angeles Sparks. He has covered basketball for Vantage Sports and Hoops Rumors and served as co-host of “On the NBA Beat” podcast. Joshua received his master’s in Sports Media from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @JJTheJuggernaut.