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Stefany Ferrer Van Ginkel, Angel City bridge the gap across borders

Angel City's Stefany Ferrer Van Ginkel defends against Tigres during the friendly match Wednesday night. (Courtesy of Angel City Football Club)

LOS ANGELES — “Futból Sin Fronteras, ¡Una Sola Pasión!” read a sign in the supporters’ section during Angel City FC’s match against Tigres Femenil on Wednesday night. The club’s first international friendly was a celebration of the increasing interconnectedness of the women’s soccer world. In the words of the sign, the match was “soccer without borders” in action.

ACFC forward Stefany Ferrer Van Ginkel may have felt that sentiment most strongly. The 23-year-old has played competitive soccer in four countries (Spain, the United States, England and Mexico) and was facing her old team on Wednesday. Afterward, she said the best part about playing her former teammates was having the opportunity to hug them and catch up after the game.

In her first start for ACFC, Ferrer Van Ginkel was named Player of the Match despite having a beautiful assist called back after rookie Hope Breslin was ruled offside. Head coach Freya Coombe praised Ferrer Van Ginkel’s ability to “show some class on the ball in possession” throughout the game. The midfielder played the bulk of the match, which Angel City won 1-0 on Savannah McCaskill’s goal in the 79th minute.

Next year, ACFC will visit Tigres in Monterrey, Mexico to culminate the two-year home-and-home series. On Tuesday, the clubs held a festival that included a youth soccer clinic, a five-on-five tournament and player appearances. Tigres will also host events for fans ahead of next year’s game to promote women’s soccer and engage their community.

Ferrer Van Ginkel understands as well as anyone the unique way sports can connect people. She was born in Brazil and began playing soccer in middle school to make friends after moving to Spain and not yet speaking Spanish. She and her two sisters were adopted by a Spanish family after their mother could no longer take care of them. What began as a way to fit in became an obsession and ultimately a career for the young footballer.

After spending last season in Liga MX Femenil with Tigres, Ferrer Van Ginkel signed a one-year deal with Angel City on Feb. 1 through a transfer agreement between the clubs. Now months into her first NWSL season, she describes the U.S. pro league as more physical and Mexico’s as more technical. Coombe believes the pace of play is faster in the NWSL, but what made Wednesday’s game a good test is that Tigres is one of the faster teams in Liga MX Femenil.

Four players born in California started the game for Tigres, including three with Southern California ties. Defender Anika Rodriguez and forward Mia Fishel were teammates at UCLA, Ammanda Marroquin was born in San Diego, and Bianca Sierra hails from the Bay Area.

In total, nine of the 21 players on Tigres’ roster attended universities in the States, including San Diego State, Washington State, Oregon State, Auburn, Toledo and South Florida. Nigerian-born forward Uchenna Kanu scored 115 goals in 55 games with Southeastern University (Florida) before scoring 17 times in 12 appearances for Pensacola in the Women’s Premier League. Ferrer Van Ginkel became the first international player to sign with Tigres last season, and this year’s team boasts six foreign players (four Americans, a Colombian and a Nigerian).

Rodriguez, a Los Angeles native, said that the partnership between the clubs was important to her personally as a Mexican-American and to the women’s game.

“It’s challenging the boundaries of this sport and crossing borders,” Rodriguez said. “Soccer is universal and knows no boundaries. This partnership is just one step closer to that ideal.”

After signing with the Portland Thorns in 2020, Rodriguez did not make an appearance and instead went to play for a Dutch team for two seasons before joining Tigres. She said the partnership with ACFC benefits her team by expanding its viewer and fan base and reaching the Latinx community in Los Angeles.

Ferrer Van Ginkel predicted the match would also have the effect of growing soccer in L.A., since many other professional sports may steer American fans’ attention away from soccer. In Monterrey, by contrast, the community is “100 percent attentive to soccer,” she says. Ferrer Van Ginkel has found Angel City’s robust, league-leading attendance impressive given all the other choices sports fans have in L.A.

“Maybe other teams in the NWSL now are going to follow and do the same thing,” she said of her club’s partnership with Tigres. “Or maybe it’ll become even bigger and we’ll become a league like a Copa. I think it’s huge for women’s soccer, to always be growing and doing new things like this.”

Before the game started, the teams exchanged scarves and took photos together, which Tigres head coach and three-year NWSL veteran Carmelina Moscato said signified a “football friendship.”

“It’s celebrating the spirit of women’s football, how it’s growing, how two clubs are pushing boundaries, how two clubs are first movers in their respective countries,” Moscato said.

For Coombe, too, the partnership exceeds far beyond the pitch.

“It it is more about how we are able to learn from each other,” Coombe said. “How we are both looking to take the best points from each other’s clubs and implement those to grow the game in our communities.”

Both head coaches said the goal is to push women’s soccer forward and agreed that, in the absence of a Champions League in the Americas, partnerships like this are needed to elevate the game. Last month, the women’s Euro final between England and Germany easily broke the attendance record with 87,192 fans watching the Lionesses win at Wembley Stadium.

“I think (this partnership will) inspire other leagues to get moving,” Moscato said. “When you start to see the game growing and connecting in these ways, people want to be part of this. It’s unique.”

Moscato said that a few Concacaf leagues are invested in and pushing boundaries for women’s soccer. She identified the NWSL and Liga MX Femenil as leaders among this group.

“The women’s game is growing rapidly, globally and regionally, which has been happening in almost an accelerator for the past decade,” said Moscato, specifically referencing the visibility that stems from every major international tournament. “It’s the years between those international events where club football does the heavy lifting.”

Angel City and Tigres Femenil are doing the heavy lifting, and they’re doing it without being bothered by arbitrary national borders.

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 @SportsCommsJosh.