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Soccer newsletter: Mia Fishel has found a home with Tigres

Tigres’ forward Mia Fishel meets her fans outside Estadio Universitario in Monterrey.
(Kevin Baxter / Los Angeles Times)

MONTERREY, Mexico — Hello and welcome to the weekly L.A. Times soccer newsletter. I’m Kevin Baxter, the Times’ soccer writer, and this week we have another Gareth Bale goal in another LAFC win; another Galaxy loss in what has become a string of setbacks; a pause in a Galaxy power play to evict a trio of lower-division clubs from the Irvine stadium they share; and national championships for the Ventura County Fusion and Orange County FC.

But we start with Mia Fishel, a former All-American at UCLA now playing in Mexico. She’ll be in Los Angeles on Wednesday to play against Angel City in a historic cross-border friendly at Banc of California Stadium. But the game won’t exactly be a homecoming because Southern California is no longer her home.

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Sure, she grew up here, went to school here and developed her substantial talent here. But home now is Monterrey where she plays with Tigres in the Liga MX Femenil, a team and league she chose over the Orlando Pride and NWSL last January in becoming the first high-profile U.S. star to jump to Mexico.

“It’s been super amazing,” said Fishel, 21, who has three goals in six games for Tigres (4-1-1), who are tied for second in the Apertura table. “I didn’t really have expectations coming in here. And when I got here my team was just so welcoming.

“I’m enjoying it. I’m still building connections with my teammates on and off the field.”

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She’s already built a connection with the people of Monterrey. A giant banner with Fishel’s likeness hangs in Estadio Universitario, the team’s massive home, where fans line up in the parking lot to get an autograph or a selfie with her.

“They came after me,” Fishel said of the 30-minute sales pitch the team made to her and her agent last winter. “They just told me, ‘This is how we see you. These are all the opportunities that we can provide. We have emotional fans. They love soccer as much as you love soccer.’

“The projection of Liga MX Femenil, I saw the growth.”

A goal of that growth is for the six-year-old league to draw closer in quality and prestige to NWSL, the U.S-based women’s league that is having a growth spurt of its own. That’s why many Mexican clubs, led by Tigres, are investing heavily in their women’s teams and why the league allowed clubs to start signing foreign players last year.

Brazilian Stefany Ferrer Van Ginkel, now with Angel City, was Tigres’ first foreign signing, followed by Fishel and Nigerian Uchenna Kanu.

“Mia Fishel and Uchenna are some of the best strikers in the world,” said Tigres coach Carmelina Moscato, a former Canadian international. “They’re getting a great opportunity in this league, and I think that’s what leagues are meant to do, showcase talent.

“We’re taking from the global game and the fact that the game is growing, and we’re using utilizing their talents for our goals.”

Wednesday’s exhibition will be the third that Tigres has played against a NWSL team, after two games with the Houston Dash — a 2-1 Tigres win in Monterrey in 2019 and a 5-1 Dash drubbing last season. Tigres President Mauricio Culebro said it’s important that his team continues measuring itself against American teams.

“The league in the U.S. is one of the best leagues in the world,” he said. “We want to have relationships with those teams, sports-wise and commercial-wise. One very important part of our strategic plan to become more international and just to expand the brand.

“We know we have many fans in the U.S., so we want to be there so we can be close to our fans.”

The relationship also is important for Angel City, a first-year team trying to build a fan base in a community with a massive Mexican and Mexican American population.

Liga MX is building the same kind of cross-border relationships on the men’s side. Under President Mikel Arriola, it has entered into deals with MLS that have grown to include an annual summer all-star game; the Leagues Cup Showcase which drew more than 71,000 fans to SoFi Stadium last week; and the 47-team Leagues Cup tournament, which debuts next year.

Arriola, also president of the women’s league, said a cross-border partnership with NWSL is a natural next step.

“We have a very important opportunity to grow the women’s league,” he said. “The women’s league in Mexico is the league with more growth in every indicator that they want in Mexican sports. So now the challenge is to generate a balanced competition and to start bringing permanently our women’s teams [to the U.S.].”

And when it comes to women’s soccer Tigres is Mexico’s best, having reached the league final seven times and winning a record four titles. That success and ambition is why Fishel wanted to come to Monterrey. It’s also why the team wanted her.

“The players here are very clever and they think differently than the U.S.,” said Fishel, who believes her game has improved as a result of the move. “I feel like Mexicans use more of their soccer IQ, their technical abilities because they don’t have necessarily the speed and the height of an American player.

“I have to be as clever, or even more clever.”

Fishel believes a true competition for talent between NWSL and the Liga MX Femenil will help both grow and said she gets frequent messages from U.S. players asking about Mexico. But she also said there is one skill she’s still working on seven months after moving to Monterrey — speaking Spanish.

“I’ve definitely gotten better since I first got here,” she said. “I constantly listened to my teammates’ casual conversations. I picked it up pretty quickly hearing-wise, like understanding it. But my talking is not so good.”

So last month she started taking classes with Moscato.

“It’s fantastic. It’s almost something to bond over,” said the coach. “She’s pretty good actually.”

Tigres warmed up for Wednesday’s friendly with a 4-1 win over Puebla behind a hat trick from Stephany Mayor while Angel City was enduring another heartbreaking result Sunday, dropping two points on an own goal in stoppage time of a 2-2 draw in Orlando. It was the third time in four games that Angel City has given up a game-winning or tying goal in the final minute of regulation or stoppage time.

“We need to be able to close games down,” said coach Freya Coombe, whose team was without forwards Sydney Leroux (illness) and Claire Emslie (right leg injury). “It’s something that we have talked about, but we need to be better in our decision-making and be able to defend as a unit.”

The draw leaves Angel City seventh in the NWSL table, three points below the playoff line with nine games to play. But Angel City has two games in hand over the OL Reign, the team directly ahead of it in the standings.

LAFC hardly needs a Bale out; Galaxy can use some help

Gareth Bale is too good for MLS.

If you didn’t suspect that when LAFC signed the five-time Champions League winner last month you certainly learned it Saturday when the Welsh national team captain scored a magnificent goal to provide the exclamation point on a 4-1 win at Real Salt Lake.

Bale, who hasn’t started a game for LAFC but already has two goals, collected the ball near the halfway line, outran two defenders up the wing, rounded them both near the end line and beat RSL keeper Zac MacMath with a left-footed shot from the edge of the six-yard goal area.

Watch the goal here.

How good has Bale been? He has two goals on three shots on goal in 96 MLS minutes.

“It’s a great moment for Gareth and for the team,” LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo said of the strike in the 87th minute. “It was a well-taken goal. We told Gareth after the game now we all know he can run and there’s no hiding it.”

LAFC (16-4-3) appears to be too good for MLS as well. Saturday’s win, which wasn’t as close as the one-sided score would indicate, has won five games in a row and has lost just once in 11 league matches dating to May 18. It leads MLS in wins, points (51) and goal differential (24) and is second in goals (48).

Not only is Cherundolo’s team closing in on its second Supporters’ Shield in four years — it has a six-point lead on the rest of the league — but if it takes 23 of the 33 points available in its final 11 games, LAFC will break New England’s year-old record for most points in a season.

It needs seven wins to break the Revolution’s modern-era record for wins in a season.

And the team is about to get better, having acquired forward Denis Bouanga from French club Saint-Etienne just before the transfer window closed last week.

Still, Cherundolo said the team isn’t looking too far ahead.

“We’re taking this game to game. And sometimes half to half,” he said. “We’re not too concerned with records or the table at the moment. Obviously we like where we’re at and would like to stay there.”

Two of the team’s four goals Saturday came from Cristian Arango, the team’s scoring leader who has emerged as an MVP candidate with nine goals in his last 10 MLS games.

Riqui Puig scores for Barcelona in March.
Riqui Puig scores for Barcelona in March.
(Joan Monfort / Associated Press)

The Galaxy also made a big acquisition during the transfer period by getting midfielder Riqui Puig from Barcelona. Puig’s flight from Spain landed at LAX on Saturday just as his new team was leaving Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan., after a 4-2 loss to Sporting KC.

Had Puig known how that game had gone, he might have stayed on the plane because the loss was the fifth in six games for the Galaxy (9-11-3) and left them three points and two places below the Western Conference playoff line with 11 games left.

And the game really wasn’t that close. SKC, which outshot the Galaxy 16-6, put nine shots on target, built a 3-0 halftime lead and then withstood two goals by Javier “Chicharito” Hernández.

The four goals are the most the Galaxy have given up this season. Eight of the last 10 goals the team has conceded were scored in the first half.

“We just need to apply ourselves better. We need to stop thinking that we’re just way better than the opposition and we’re just going to turn up and our quality is going to show,” said goalkeeper Jonathan Bond, who kept the game from getting totally out of hand. “We’re not getting the basics right. We’re doing sloppy things. We’re putting ourselves in bad positions.

“We’re going behind every first half and it’s just a mountain to climb and we’re quite a young and emotional team. So as soon as we concede the first goal we don’t know how to react positively and we find ourselves down three at halftime. It’s a very frustrating scenario and situation.”

LAFC and the Galaxy also played last week in the Leagues Cup Showcase exhibitions, with the Galaxy beating Chivas 2-0 in the first soccer match ever played at SoFi Stadium. LAFC battled Club América to a scoreless draw in the second game before losing a seven-round penalty-kick shootout.

The two friendlies, organized to promote next summer’s Leagues Cups, a month-long tournament involving all 47 teams from MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX, drew a sellout crowd announced at 71,189.

Top 5 U.S. soccer crowds for MLS teams, 2022

Charlotte FC vs. Galaxy (MLS), 74,479

Leagues Cup Showcase: Galaxy vs. Guadalajara, LAFC vs. Club America at SoFi Stadium, 71,189

Seattle Sounders vs. UNAM in Seattle (Concacaf Champions League), 68,741

Atlanta United vs. Sporting KC in Atlanta (MLS), 67,523

Atlanta United vs. Austin FC in Atlanta (MLS), 67,516

Source: Soccer America

Are the Galaxy coveting their neighbor’s home?

Orange County Soccer Club supporters protesting against the Galaxy using their field in Irvine.
(Orange County Soccer Club)

A proposal that would have seen the Galaxy push three lower-division teams out of Championship Soccer Stadium at the Orange County Great Park was removed Monday from the agenda for the Irvine City Council’s scheduled meeting Tuesday.

The council was scheduled to consider a request that would have given the Galaxy exclusive rights to stage pro games at the stadium for the next three years, effectually evicting the Orange County Soccer Club of the second-tier USL Championship, the California United Strikers of the third-tier National Independent Soccer Assn. and FC Golden State of the semipro USL League Two.

Dan Rutstein, the president of business operations for the Orange County Soccer Club, said neither the city nor the Galaxy advised the team about the proposal. Instead, OCSC learned about it last Thursday when the city listed it online as part of the agenda for its next meeting.

“We don’t understand it. We don’t like it. Our fans don’t like it,” Rutstein said. “It shouldn’t be that the big teams can bully the smaller teams.”

The teams supporters and other soccer fans — including many Galaxy backers — apparently agreed and late Monday the Galaxy backed down, issuing the following statement:

“The LA Galaxy are a proud partner to the local soccer community and are committed to positively growing the sport of soccer in the Southern California region. LA Galaxy are not interested in an exclusive arrangement for LA Galaxy II to play at the Orange County Great Park Championship Soccer Stadium and have advised all parties of our willingness to open conversations with the City of Irvine and other stakeholders on mutually-acceptable arrangements pertaining to the use of the stadium moving forward.”

But the Galaxy clearly was interested until Monday. According to a six-page “request for city council action” the Galaxy “expressed interest” in having their MLS Next Pro team play in Irvine next year with the city “partnering exclusively with LA Galaxy II for use of the Stadium for their home league games.” The Galaxy also asked the city to confirm its interest in a partnership by Aug. 12.

The memo says that the current operational model for the stadium allows for 40 days of use by pro soccer teams, 18 for the Orange County Soccer Club with the rest split between the United Strikers FC and FC Golden State Force of the semi-pro USL League Two. Under its proposal, the Galaxy requested to be the only pro team allowed use of the stadium for three years and offered to compensate the city of any lose of revenue stemming for that exclusivity.

The Galaxy’s interest in Championship Soccer Stadium was odd given that the team is based 37 miles away in Los Angeles County. The team’s parent company AEG owns Dignity Health Sports Park, a 125-acre complex on the campus of Cal State Dominguez Hills which features three stadiums, a velodrome and a number of training fields that have been used by the U.S. Soccer Federation, visiting clubs and national teams.

Galaxy II, the MLS team’s USL Championship affiliate, has played its home games there since its inception in 2014.

“They genuinely have a world-class facility. They’re one of the highest-profile MLS teams,” Rutstein said of the Galaxy, whose owner, Philip Anschutz, is among the wealthiest owners in global soccer. “So why would they want to come down to Orange County and throw us out? It doesn’t really make any sense to us.”

OCSC, Championship Soccer Stadium’s original tenant, has been playing in the 5,000-seat venue since it opened five years ago and has drawn an average of 4,346 fans a game this season. The team also uses the adjacent park for training, with players changing and showering in the stadium’s locker room.

OCSC paid $195,015 to use the stadium in 2021 and its memorandum of understanding with the city is scheduled to automatically renew for another two years in November.

Kristina Perrigoue, the public information officer for the city of Irvine, said the agenda item will be continued to an upcoming meeting.

And finally there’s this …

A pair of Southern California teams won championships last weekend, with the Ventura County Fusion beating the Long Island Rough Riders 2-1 in the USL League Two title game at Ventura College and Paul Caligiuri’s Orange County FC beating Nashville’s Beaman United 3-1 to win the UPSL spring championship in Columbus, Ohio.

The Fusion, which didn’t play the last two seasons because of COVID-19, won its first national title since 2009 on second-half goals from Marley Edwards and playoff MVP Nathaniel Opoku. USL League Two is a semipro league made up primarily of players from U.S. college programs.

Irvine’s Orange County FC, which was founded in 2009, won its United Premier Soccer League title behind a hat trick from Cody Shelton.

Podcast

Don’t miss my weekly podcast on the Corner of the Galaxy site as co-host Josh Guesman and I discuss the Galaxy each Monday. You can listen to the most recent podcast here.

Quotebook

“He took the ball to take the penalty and I said ‘I like that.’ I think if someone went to take this ball [from him] he would punch them in the face. And that is a good sign.”

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola after Erling Haaland, the team’s major summer signing, scored twice — the first on a penalty kick — in City’s season-opening 2-0 win over West Ham

Until next time...

Stay tuned for future newsletters. Subscribe here, and I’ll come right to your inbox. Something else you’d like to see? Email me. Or follow me on Twitter: @kbaxter11.


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