Leonardo Cuellar, the former Mexican national team player who built Mexico’s women’s program, has stepped down as coach of the women’s team after 18 years, according to Soccer America.
Cuellar’s resignation was announced Tuesday but had been anticipated since Mexico finished last in its group at last summer’s Women’s World Cup in Canada. Mexico followed that performance by failing to get past the group stage in Feburary’s CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament.
Mexico has not advanced beyond the group stage in the three World Cups it has played in, failing to win any of its nine games. And it has not qualified for an Olympic tournament since 2004.
But Cuellar’s team has been a regional power and has consistently ranked among the top 30 teams in the world. It nearly eliminated the powerful U.S. from the 2011 World Cup with a 2-1 win in qualifying, arguably the biggest win in the Mexican team’s history. That forced the U.S. into a two-leg playoff with Italy, which it won.
The modest success of Cuellar’s team also popularized women’s soccer in Mexico, with the national team reaching the quarterfinals in two of the last three U-20 World Cups and the most recent U-17 World Cup.
A midfielder during his playing days, Cuellar, 62, appeared in 41 games for the Mexican national team and also played in the 1978 World Cup. He later played in the U.S. for the San Diego Sockers, San Jose Earthquakes and Golden Bay Earthquakes.