Bridging the divide: Club Tijuana's women's team set to play in American league starting in May

Club Tijuana's women's team being introduced - August 2014

Photo Credit: 
Club Tijuana Communications

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Is the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) a blueprint for future CONCACAF integration?

It may sound implausible, but the WPSL, which occupies the second tier on the US women's soccer pyramid, is expanding fast outside the United States’ borders, starting with Club Tijuana fielding a team from May 2015.

“It adds a lot to us,” WPSL Commissioner Jerry Zanelli told MLSsoccer.com over the phone this week. “We’ve always wanted to go international, but the right opportunity never presented itself.”

Zanelli added that there were talks with Monterrey “six or seven” years ago and that the WPSL would potentially be “very much open” to more Mexican or other foreign teams in the future, even admitting that there are ongoing talks with three Canadian clubs hoping to get a place in the league.

With FC Indiana – which fields predominantly Haiti national team players – already in the WSPL, the organization is quickly fulfilling Zanelli’s expansionist ambition.

Naturally, the integration of Club Tijuana’s women’s team hasn’t been easy to set up and the bureaucracy between the different federations may mean Xolos start life in the league playing home games on the northern side of the border in San Diego, Calif.

“We have to get approval from the Mexican national [federation’s] office, one from the United States [federation] and then the two of them have to send a letter to CONCACAF, so it’s a process,” stated Zanelli.

From the Xolos point of view, the club’s women’s side – known as IsaMar FC – has won local and national championships in recent years and has two players in Fabiola Ibarra and Carolina Jaramillo Quintero who featured for Mexico in the recent Under-20 World Cup in Canada. 

Off the back of that success, the move north to the WPSL is a natural progression for the team.

“Lots of things came together,” explained head coach Andrea Rodebaugh recently, in Spanish, in an interview provided to MLSsoccer.com by Club Tijuana. “The girls have been playing and winning together for a long time and when a team wins it should look for new horizons.”

The move to get Tijuana into the league started with Rodebaugh – a former captain of the Mexico national team, who also coached El Tri’s Under-20s -- approaching Zanelli, according to the commissioner, who said he knew her from her playing days and was very receptive to the idea.

Club Tijuana was also supportive, with sporting director Ignacio Palou saying earlier this month in a press conference that he “felt proud” of the project, adding it was “something we had looked to do for years.”

The institution has plans in place to feed the team’s ambition in the longer term, too, with three training centers focused on the women’s game due to open shortly in Tijuana, Ensenada and Mexicali – all of which are in the northern part of the Mexican state of Baja California

“I have always believed that Mexico has many players with a lot of talent,” stated Rodebaugh. “There is only one space for high performance [training in Mexico] and that’s with the national team. However, there are more girls that could participate.”

The offshoot to Tijuana’s participation in the WPSL for the players is an opportunity for them to be seen and, potentially, move on to greater things.

“It can be a window for other dreams, not just sporting ones, but academic ones, because there will be scouts from universities and there is also a professional league [in the United States] … and leagues in Europe,” said Rodebaugh. “There are lots of possibilities.”

Tijuana’s participation in the WPSL will be in the Pacific South conference, with the league – founded in 1998 and already with over 70 teams – split up into 12 regional divisions for the 2014 tournament.

And Rodebaugh believes having Tijuana playing south of the border in Estadio Caliente would benefit the development of other teams in the league.

“The ideal would be to play here, so they see it is a totally different environment that can benefit their league, their players and be something distinct,” she said.

Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at tom.marshall.mex@gmail.com.