PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Forward Daniela Solis is the personification of an ever-growing connection between soccer in the United States and Mexico — one that's only going to intensify as the 2026 World Cup looms.
Major League Soccer's All-Star Game against Liga MX counterparts, an expanded Leagues Cup competition next year and a series of women's exhibition matches this summer all aim to bridge the border.
For MLS, that means tapping into the sizable Liga MX fan base in the United States. On the women's side, it's about growing the game overall.
Solis is a native of Mexico but was a high school star in Oregon and played soccer at Portland State before transferring to Monterrey Tech, one of the top women's college teams in Mexico.
"I'd always dreamed of playing professional soccer, but when I was in college, there was no professional soccer in Mexico," Solis said. “So I basically went there without knowing and a couple of years later the league was born and I was in it.”
Now with Liga MX Femenil's CF Monterrey, Solis is currently in the United States for the Women's International Challenge Cup at Portland's Providence Park. Las Rayadas, as the team is known, will play French powerhouse Lyon for the tournament title Saturday
Tigres UANL women recently played an exhibition at Angel City of the National Women's Soccer League, part of an agreement between the teams that will share best practices and community outreach strategies. Angel City will play Tigres in Mexico next year.
“As a Mexican-American, this partnership is so important to me and the women’s game because it’s challenging the ‘boundaries’ of this sport and crossing borders," said Tigres winger Anika Rodriguez. "Soccer/futbol is universal and knows no boundaries. This partnership is just one step closer to that ideal.”
One of Tigres' top stars is Mia Fishel, who played for UCLA and eschewed the NWSL to play in Mexico.
Another Liga MX Femenil team, Club America, is currently in Kentucky for the Women's Cup and will play AC Milan in the tournament's third-place match Saturday.
LA Galaxy star Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez is embracing cross-border collaboration between MLS and Liga MX. There will no doubt be more eyes on both leagues in advance of the 2026 World Cup, hosted by the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
“I want to have the narrative that the Liga MX has so many things that we need to praise, the same as MLS, and then this type of events are going to help us both keep going," said the striker, who has played in both leagues.
It's beneficial for MLS to capitalize on the ties: Liga MX matches on Spanish-language television in the United States draw more viewers than televised MLS games on average, and last year’s All-Star Game had better combined ratings (on both Spanish and English broadcasts) than the MLS Cup final.
There are more shared events in the future. MLS Cup champions NYCFC will host Liga MX’s defending champions Atlas next month in the 2022 Campeones Cup.
Next year, MLS and Liga MX will compete in an expanded Leagues Cup tournament. It will be the first to include all 47 clubs from MLS and Liga MX. The winner will advance directly to the CONCACAF Champions League round of 16.
A recent Leagues Cup showcase at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles drew 71,000 fans with games between the Galaxy and Chivas, and LAFC and Club America.
Although MLS Commissioner Don Garber suggested that next year's All-Star Game may not involve Liga MX counterparts, he said the 2023 Leagues Cup will elevate the alliance between the two leagues.
“We have done a really focused, strategic partnership with Liga MX, trying to build CONCACAF into being one of the dominant confederations in the world, not just in our region,” he said in a televised interview at halftime of the All-Star Game.
NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said her league is looking at expanded international partnerships.
"We’re definitely excited and we have had some very preliminary, introductory conversations at least at the enterprise and league level since I’ve been here," she said. “We’re excited to explore that given the connectivity and our proximity geographically.”
For Solis, soccer is a nice way to bring her two homes together.
“I think the Mexican league is really supporting their (women's) teams, and I'm really glad that the NWSL is opening doors to Mexican league teams to come play friendlies up in the U.S.," she said. "It's good for everybody.”
More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports