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NCAA a difficult (but not impossible) choice for Liga MX Femenil players

Could NCAA schools be a viable path for Liga MX Femenil players? Yes, but...

NCAA Womens Soccer: Division I-College Cup Championship-North Carolina vs Stanford John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

While Liga MX Femenil continues to gain renown as one of the better leagues throughout the world, it’s inevitable that we’ll see more players move from Mexico abroad. We’ve seen this already as Cecilia Santiago moved from Club América to PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands in the summer of 2019 as well as more recent rumors surrounding Katty Martínez and Jackie Ovalle heading to the Houston Dash.

The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in the United States is an attractive destination for Mexican players, given the quality of the league and the close proximity to Mexico. But as of now, players moving to the United States are more the exception than the rule.

Women players don’t have as clear of a career path to the NWSL or other leagues as their male counterparts. Historically, the majority of players in the NWSL have come through the U.S. college system. Mexicans in the NWSL who have played at NCAA schools include Maria Sánchez, Arianna Romero, Ariana Calderón, Katie Johnson, and Bianca Henninger. In Liga MX Femenil, Janelly Farías, Jocelyn Orejel, and Jen Muñoz also played college soccer in the United States, however it’s worth pointing out that all of the players listed were born in and received primary education in the United States.

Historically, the only other path has been like that of Maribel Domínguez, who went from playing in a men’s league in Mexico to the National Team before joining the Kansas City Mystics in 2002.

El Tri forward Katie Johnson (center) played for the University of Southern California before going pro and playing in the National Women’s Soccer League in the US.
El Tri forward Katie Johnson (center) played for the University of Southern California before going pro and playing in the National Women’s Soccer League in the US.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

There are some pretty significant hurdles to clear though in order to play in college in the US, especially if a player has played professionally before going to the NCAA to play in college. Women who played in Liga MX Femenil however could still play in college in the United States. Copies of the professional contract would need to be reviewed by the NCAA, and they’d determine the potential student-athlete’s eligibility. According to Michael Barroquiero, head women’s soccer coach with the University of Delaware, “a potential student-athlete, with the help of the university that (they’re) planning on attending (would need) to be able to prove that any money that (the potential student-athlete) did make could be filed as necessary expenses to be able to compete at that level.” Young women athletes not making a lot of money actually works in their favor in this specific instance, as it’s easier to write off smaller amounts of money as what Coach Barroquiero described as “necessary expenses.”

Another factor is the cost of education in the United States. Especially when combined with a strong dollar, an education at a school in the US could be prohibitively expensive. Barroquiero says that many international home students can simply stay in their home countries, where they can “potentially receive higher education but at a much more affordable rate.” Division I student-athletes may not necessarily need to worry about that if they receive scholarships, but the ancillary costs to attend a university in the US such as housing, transportation, food, and health care could put it out of reach of a lot of potential student-athletes.

“Obviously, we do have a lot to offer with the way our educational system is set up,” Barroquiero says. “And it is very unique in a lot of ways compared to what they could potentially get in many other countries.”

This also assumes the person could pass academic rigor. Unfortunately some of the players are woefully under-educated, sometimes only possessing a minimal education even as they reach their late teens or early twenties, what is widely regarded as “college age” in the US.

For those that can pass academic rigor, the language barrier can present a problem. The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is often times used to gauge a potential student’s grasp of the English language but according to Barroquiero “I would say that I think is, is a big hurdle for the international students and probably honestly, not a necessary one.”

“You could do a Skype conversation with them,” he continues “and see very clearly that they are more than proficient enough in the language to be able to be successful at the university. But some universities will require an exorbitantly high TOEFL score, while others won’t. Some universities don’t require any.” It really depends on the university and what their rules for admission are.

While not an impossible path, it’s certainly a difficult one for a lot of players in the league now. Some teams are offering their femenil players help in the way of English language classes and schooling, but often times its too late to allow them to attend an American university. It’s a start though, and perhaps in time we’ll see the NCAA as a more viable path for Mexican women.