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Liga MX Femenil 2023 Clausura preview

Melissa Castro, Melina Gaspar, and Eugene Rupinski look back at the 2022-23 Liga MX Femenil off-season and ahead at the 2023 Clausura.

Uchenna Kanu and Fer Elizondo #5 of Tigres UANL femenil celebrate after winning the final second leg match between Tigres UANL and America as part of the Torneo Apertura 2022 Liga MX Femenil at Universitario Stadium on November 14, 2022 in Monterrey, Mexico. Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images

The 2022-23 Liga MX Femenil off-season saw a lot of player movement as well as an infusion of new players from abroad. These moves (and lack thereof) will set the tone for all eighteen teams as they embark on their quests to win the 2023 Clausura title. We asked staff writers Melissa Castro, Melina Gaspar, and Eugene Rupinski questions about the off-season and upcoming season to see who they thought did well and who should have perhaps done more.

The first question was around which team did the best business during the off-season. Gaspar said she thought América’s re-signing of Sarah Luebbert was the difference maker for them. “She proved to be the best foreign player in her first stint in México and helped the club to get to new highs, and I don’t think this time will be different,” she said, continuing “Also, this América is better and more mature than the one Sarah played with the first time, and so she just will make them even better.” Gaspar also pointed out that Luebbert is also “a fan favorite. Even those who don’t root for América are fans of hers, and that’s very positive since the club needs to keep building and growing its fan base and with her signing, they made them happy and the manager showed she’s listening to them.”

Castro however thought it was Pachuca that had the best off-season. saying that it was “because they added new players who came from the NCAA who will have the opportunity to learn from some of the best,” referring to the signings of Vanessa Millsaps from University of Washington and Leyla McFarland from Pepperdine University. “This might or might not payoff this coming season but will pay off in the seasons to come.”

Rupinski however thought it was Atlas, with the signing of the U15 México Women’s National Team technical staff to run their U18s system as well as picking up Maritza Maldonado from Querétaro, Brenda Cerén from Alianza in El Salvador, Daniela Cruz from Saprissa in Costa Rica, Vania Villalobos from Tigres, and Selene Valera who returns from Exatlón. “Bringing in the U15 National Team setup is somewhat of a coup, since in the 2022 Concacaf U15 tournament the team lost to Canada in penalties in the semifinals before beating the Dominican Republic in the third place match. Atlas as an organization has always embraced developing players from within while making smart signings on the transfer market, and this looks to cement a strong developmental program at the club. That part might not pay off for a few seasons, but once it starts it is one of those assets that can continue for years.”

Maria Sandoval (L) of Mazatlan fights for the ball with Mariana Cadena (R) of Monterrey during the match between Mazatlan and Monterrey as part of the Torneo Grita Mexico A21 Liga MX Femenil at Kraken Stadium on August 13, 2021 in Mazatlan, Mexico.
According to our panel, Mazatlán, León, and Pumas were the teams that didn’t do as well during the offseason while América, Pachuca, and Atlas were the big winners.
Photo by Daniel Santana/Jam Media/Getty Images

When there are winners, there are also losers, and even the offseason is not immune to this. When asked who needed to do more, Gaspar said “As always, Mazatlán. Their manager seems to think that waiving half of the team is a good idea but they need a new plan since, clearly, that isn’t working. Mazatlán needs a good project and patience to let it develop.”

Castro meanwhile said “León. They should have hired a head coach who knows about women’s soccer instead of just hiring from within from the boys’ academy. The team is great, but without a good head coach they won’t make the playoffs or reach their potential, even though they have a great roster.”

Rupinski took a similar look, however at Pumas. “Pumas now has their third head coach in two years, dismissing Karina Báez after three seasons and bringing in U18s head coach Jhonathan Lazcano. While Lazcano had success with the U18s, the professional game is a much different beast and he’ll face a steep learning curve. Pumas also made just two personnel moves (so far) during the off-season, bringing in Citlali Hernández from Atlético San Luis while letting defender Akemi Yokoyama go. While time will tell, it seems like the team that finished out of the Liguilla needed more than two moves and a new coach.”

Of course everyone has opinions on what Tigres needs to do in order to defend their title. Gaspar thought that “Coach Carmelina (Moscato) needs to refresh the roster. Tigres players like (Stefany) Mayor and (Liliana) Mercado are great, but younger talent would do wonders for this team too.”

Rupinski thought that the leaders on the club needed to step up to keep the focus sharp. “Everyone will be gunning for Tigres this season, perhaps more so than before since they’re the defending champions. The coaching staff will remind the team to keep their concentration up, however the leaders on the team need to hold everyone accountable for them to be as successful as last year.”

Castro said that in order for Tigres to repeat, they “need to not get comfortable. They have had so much success, and unfortunately some teams who have been very successful will get comfortable. If they can avoid that then they should be able to defend their title.“

Mia Fishel of Tigres UANL femenil kicks the ball during the final second leg match between Tigres UANL and America as part of the Torneo Apertura 2022 Liga MX Femenil at Universitario Stadium on November 14, 2022 in Monterrey, Mexico.
Tigres will have their work cut out for them as the defending champions.
Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images

Castro also said she wouldn’t be surprised if Tigres repeated as champions. “They had a very complete team during the Apertura, and when they added Maricarmen Reyes to their roster, they buffed up the team even more.”

Gaspar meanwhile said she thought América would be the ones to dethrone Tigres. “This team looks very promising after what they did last season and with Luebbert joining them.” She thought that injuries or poor finishing could be their downfall, but also pointed to another area that they hopefully have improved upon. “Of course, their goalkeeping was not a highlight last season, but I want to believe that Itzel Gonzalez has worked - and is working - very hard to keep focused and concentrated during 90+ minutes.”

Rupinski meanwhile thinks this could be the year Pachuca finally breaks through. “Pachuca has put so much effort into building a team that can win a title, and with players like Jenni Hermoso and Marta Cox in their second seasons with the club they should help mainstays like Viridiana Salazar, Charlyn Corral, and Mónica Ocampo further their game. I also think they made some very smart signings during the offseason, and think it’s their time.”

As far as who the trio thinks the biggest disappointments will be, Rupinski thinks it’ll be Cruz Azul, since the club “has seemed to have taken a step backwards after making the Liguilla last season. They let key players like Karime Abud and Mirelle Arciniega go and replaced the only coach to get them to the Liguilla (Roberto Pérez) with U18 men’s coach Nicoás Morales. I don’t see that ending well for La Máquina.”

Castro meanwhile think’s it’ll be León who is the biggest disappointment. “Their head coach will be a bit of an issue. They have a high caliber team, but they never seem to have a coach that can take them to the next level.”

Gaspar meanwhile pointed to Monterrey as the team with the biggest potential for disappointment. “Rayadas. The coach and players are great at maximizing their chances with the personnel they have, but other clubs are investing big time while Monterrey isn’t. That will take a toll at some point. I’m not saying they’re gonna finish last, but they will have a not-so-good tournament given their (very high) standards. I hope they prove me wrong.”

Players of Leon huddle before the match between FC Juarez and Leon as part of the Torneo Grita Mexico A21 Liga MX Femenil at Olimpico Benito Juarez on August 30, 2021 in Ciudad Juarez,
Juárez was (almost) universally endorsed as the team who could reach their first Liguilla this season.
Photo by Alvaro Avila/Jam Media/Getty Images

Finally, with San Luis, Juárez, Mazatlán, and Necaxa still looking for their first Liguilla appearance, they were asked which one they thought had the best chance of making it this season. Gaspar said she thought it would be Juárez, noting that “Coach Mila Martínez has refreshed this team and has signed players that were exactly what Juárez needed last season. I really like (Martínez as) coach, she’s honest, smart and hard working, one who takes her job very seriously and that helped Juárez to be better than ever in 2022. I just hope they can keep building on what they did last season and reach their first Liguilla in 2023.”

Rupinski echoed that sentiment, adding that “Juárez has really undergone a transformation over the past couple of seasons, and have laid the groundwork for a good team lead by a highly competent staff. They’re just starting to tap into their potential, and it could be really fun if they can get some momentum behind their project.”

While Gaspar and Rupinski were in agreement that it was most likely Juárez, Castro wasn’t as eager to give it to Las Bravas just yet. “I think that San Luis, Juarez and Necaxa will all have an equal opportunity to make their first Liguilla appearance,” she said, adding that however “I do know that Mazatlán will not, because they make very drastic changes every off season. They do not let the team create chemistry since every season they are loading and unloading half of the roster.”