Last night’s result for México was both expected and a shock, familiar and unfamiliar. There’s nothing shocking about losing to the defending World Cup champions, but it was shocking in some manner because of how México had held their own against them even after going down a player. It was shocking that a goal that looked offside wasn’t even reviewed.
It was shocking because after six years of hard work, México still isn’t going to the World Cup.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow. After all, this was supposed to be México’s coming out party. A new generation of players, some of whom have been playing professional soccer in the domestic league since their mid-teens. A tournament finally on Mexican soil, one that felt more like an honest competition than a rote coronation of the traditional powers. A federation that invested in the women’s game and put it’s faith in a young Mexican woman to lead it all.
It could have been everything good about what those of us who have been watching this transformation knew was possible. Instead, it was a disaster.
Some of the best young players hardly got any playing time at all. Katty Martínez played just 65 minutes in the three games. Jackie Ovalle played just 76 minutes, although it would have most certainly been more had she not picked up a red card in 73rd minute of the final match. Licha Cervantes played 128 minutes. And this is only talking about players who made the final roster. Alison González would have been a great addition had she not been injured in the 2021 Clausura Liguilla. And at 30 she might not be considered a young player, but leaving Liga MX Femenil leading scorer Charlyn Corral’s omission from the roster will be scrutinized for a long time.
The tournament being in México was also not as well-received as expected. With Concacaf not promoting the game locally, the crowds were spartan save for México’s final match. In two of the country’s premier venues, crowds hardly topped a couple of thousand people. The optics of playing games in empty stadiums with the acoustics of hearing nothing but players and coaches shouting instructions at one another is embarrassing. Even for México’s matches, the crowds weren’t anywhere near capacity. And to top it off, we’re still probably going to get the same coronation of the traditional powers that we always get.
This failure should be a clarion call for all those who care about a multitude of things: soccer in México, soccer in Concacaf, women’s soccer in general. There will be some who point to this endeavor as a waste of time and resources. That México isn’t capable or deserving of hosting a tournament of this magnitude. That a Mexican coach, a Mexican woman coach, simply can’t coach at a winning level on the international stage.
Those notions should be fully and completely rejected out of hand. I’m not going to weigh in specifically on Mónica Vergara’s tenure and whether or not she should remain in her post, because like everything else in this situation it’s complicated and messy. Instead, it should suffice to say that one person’s fit for a job shouldn’t be a reflection on anyone but that person.
This generation of players and the ones we see coming up right now before our eyes however deserve our support, now more than ever. They’ll continue to play, whether it’s in fields and neighborhood parks or sold out stadiums. One of the most indelible images from this tournament may have been captured by my friend and colleague Amelia Lopez after last night’s match. A group of fans were waiting for the Mexican team bus to leave Estadio Universitario after the brutal loss to their biggest rivals, ending any dreams of making the World Cup. Yet there was no anger or hostility, instead they greeted the bus with love and support, chanting “México! México!” as the bus pulled off in the night.