El Tri may not be at the peak of their international prowess these days, but that doesn’t mean Mexicans are any less crazy about el jogo bonito. Yet while teams like América and Chivas can pack massive stadiums and ignite the passions of fans on both sides of the border, there is still one facet of the game that is conspicuously missing from the Mexican scene: women’s soccer.

Sure, outdated machista attitudes certainly bare some of the blame for this absence, but sometimes all it takes is someone willing blaze a trail before new ideas can catch on – and that’s exactly what the women behind the Xolas of Tijuana women’s soccer club are doing.

Founded as a recreational club by beauty salon owner Marbella Ibarra, las Xolas first competed under the name Isamar FC, in honor of Ibarra’s eponymous salon. When the team started attracting top-notch talent, Ibarra managed to set up a friendly match with Mexico’s U-20 Women’s World Cup Team, and after a pitched battle, Isamar came out with a dignified 2-1 loss.

The solid performance caught the attention of U-20 trainer Andrea Rodebaugh, who offered her services to the budding team, and eventually the club worked out an alliance with the professional Xolos de Tijuana, which lead to the formal incorporation of las Xolas. With financial and logistical support from a professional team, las Xolas – which draws players from both sides of the border – were able to join the US’s semi-pro Women’s Premiere Soccer league and compete against high-level players from California and beyond.

Nearly three years later, las Xolas continue to be Mexico’s only semi-professional women’s team, but their solitary status hopefully won’t last for long. The team is already pulling in thousands of spectators for their games, and they’ve even produced the country’s first bona fide women’s soccer star, Carolina Jaramillo, who recently turned heads when she was recruited into a men’s professional indoor soccer team.

But the struggle is still real, and ambitious players from around the country who are drawn to the club still face pushback and confusion both at home and in their communities. But all that won’t last long – Marbella seems confident that “within two seasons” Mexican business people will start catching on to the lucrative potential of a women’s soccer league. From there, hearts and minds shouldn’t be far behind.

H/T El País

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