BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — As Mexico’s first-ever match against the Chicago Red Stars neared the hour mark on Saturday, Diana Ordoñez saw the ball in the back of the net before the Red Stars could even react. Taking two steps in front of the penalty area, Ordoñez found acres of space with which to line up a golazo from distance, giving Mexico their fourth goal in an eventual 5-2 win, on a day when the best of the sport were on display.
The MexTour has been a wildly successful endeavor on the men’s side for years, as the Mexico men’s national team connects with fans in the U.S. who might not have the opportunity to travel and watch them in their home country. The men’s team most recently visited Chicago last June for a pre-World Cup friendly against Ecuador in front of 60,000 people at Soldier Field, solidifying the team as one of the most popular in the city and arguably the entire country.
The women’s national team is working on building that kind of following in the inaugural year of MexTour W after a few rocky years on the international stage. Mexico has missed the last two Women’s World Cups with performances during Concacaf qualifying tournaments that don’t reflect the growth in talent in the region in recent years. But Saturday was all about the future, as Mexico drew more than 6,000 fans out to SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, the Red Stars’ home venue.
“When I heard Mexico was coming to play, I was like man, this crowd is going to be rowdy. So I was excited,” said Chicago defender and acting captain Arin Wright, happily sporting a Mexico jersey after the match ended.
The Red Stars were undoubtedly the away team in their home stadium on Saturday, with boos accompanying yellow card challenges and raucous cheers for every Mexico goal-scoring opportunity.
The crowd didn’t leave empty-handed. Mexico found spaces in and around a short-handed Red Stars defense to score five total goals, including a number of strikes from distance complemented by quality footwork in the penalty area. Ordoñez and Maria Sanchez led the charge, each scoring against Chicago just a week after doing the same for the Houston Dash in the NWSL.
𝐉á𝐥𝐞𝐬𝐞 𝐯𝐢𝐞𝐣ó𝐧. 🤠💣 @Maria17_7 pic.twitter.com/WOqM7a1wAY— Mexican National Team (@miseleccionmxEN) April 8, 2023
𝐉á𝐥𝐞𝐬𝐞 𝐯𝐢𝐞𝐣ó𝐧. 🤠💣 @Maria17_7 pic.twitter.com/WOqM7a1wAY
“I felt like it was a great day for people that are football people,” said Red Stars head coach Christ Petrucelli. “It’s probably the first time we’ve ever been booed in our own stadium. But it’s OK, it was part of the fun.”
After a number of years when Mexican talent fell outside the NWSL talent pipeline, the door to more overlap between the U.S. and Mexico is appearing to open. Sanchez, Ordoñez, Katie Johnson and Scarlett Camberos are the highest-profile Mexican-American players to rise through the NCAA system and eventually find their way to the NWSL, while American talent is increasingly finding a home in Liga MX Femenil. Most notably, UCLA product and USWNT prospect Mia Fishel is on a goal-scoring tear for Tigres Femenil.
“I think there should be more Mexican players in our league,” Wright said after the game. “I mean, watching this game right there, it shows that they can keep up and that they bring a lot of different talent that we don’t have here in this league. And I think our league could thrive having a little bit more of their technical ability.”
Red Stars midfielder Jill Aguilera, who plays for the Puerto Rico national team, agrees that more opportunities for cross-competition are only good for the region. Saturday’s game was a quick turnaround for Aguilera, as Puerto Rico will play their own version of a club friendly against Liga MX Femenil side Tijuana in California early this week.
“I played Mexico a year ago, somewhat close to today,” she said. “So I was definitely used to the crowd, I knew that it would feel somewhat like an away game. I expected that.”
While the Red Stars did their best to quiet the Mexico crowd, most emphatically with Julia Bianchi’s Olimpico goal off a corner kick, they were also open about their desire to see many of the fans return, perhaps sporting their club colors next time around. The Red Stars’ home outside of Chicago’s city limits has long been a topic of conversation, as the team attempts to connect with the vibrant community northeast of the quiet suburb where they play.
“I think that we struggle a bit, everyone knows, to get fans out here to SeatGeek. So we were really excited to have them come in and have our players really experience that atmosphere that Mexico can bring,” said Wright.
“Overall, we’re just grateful to have as many people as we did out here, and the more we can get fans like this to our regular season games, the better for everyone,” echoed Aguilera.
Wright believes the way to draw crowds back is to continue being active with outreach, and the scheduling of international friendlies is an easy way to make the Red Stars a relevant part of the footballing conversation in the greater Chicagoland community.
“Chicago is a melting pot. It’s so diverse, it has so many different cultures,” she says. “So can we get more games against other countries? That’s how you get more fans is more visibility, and reaching different countries and different fan bases.”
Despite the result, the Red Stars relished the opportunity to be a part of the global game, and Wright is eager for more opportunities.
“The players are gonna be happy to do it,” she said. “Ask us to go to Mexico, twist our arm, we’ll be there.”
Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.