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Mexico yet to commit allocations to 2014 NWSL season

Sky Blue’s Monica Ocampo finished the season with eight goals and two assists, one of the bright spots for Mexican allocations. (Photo Copyright Meg Linehan for The Equalizer)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Mexico’s soccer federation has not committed to another year of subsidizing players for the National Women’s Soccer League and won’t unless individual franchises can show they have interest in the players, according to Mexico women’s national team coach Leonardo Cuellar.

A target date for Mexico to recommit to the arrangement of sending players to the U.S.-based league was pushed back from Aug. 16 to Sept. 10, one week after the U.S. and Mexico national teams play a friendly in Washington D.C., Cuellar said Friday. In Washington, Cuellar will get feedback from his players and meet with league officials to discuss the future of Mexico’s participation, he said.

“We will have a report from the players about what they experienced and why some of them didn’t play,” Cuellar said. “For us, it’s very important to make an evaluation about how we are going to keep being part of this agreement because it’s very obvious for us that the coaches and the league already have their favorite players. The way they allocated (the Mexican) players, some coaches didn’t want them. Some didn’t make an effort to have them participating and just completely ignored them.”

[MORE: Future of allocated players still fluid; option dates pushed back]

Cuellar has not yet spoken directly to the league about his concerns, NWSL Executive Director Cheryl Bailey said. She confirmed she will meet with Cuellar in Washington to discuss how the partnership worked during the inaugural season and what 2014 will look like.

“To throw this together so quickly, the expectations and the allocation was new and the concept was new and how that was going to work out was unknown,” Bailey said Saturday in Rochester, N.Y., after the Western New York Flash’s win over the Boston Breakers. “Now we’ve had a season to be able to step back and reflect and say, ‘OK, how might we improve that? How might we look at that a little differently?’ So I will really value the input from both Canada and Mexico.”

Bailey had not heard or read the specific comments Cuellar made to The Equalizer when asked about the matter, but Bailey said it will be “very valuable” to hear Cuellar’s concerns when meeting next month.

The U.S. Soccer Federation founded the NWSL late last year and reached agreements with the Canadian Soccer Association and Mexican Federation of Football (FMF) to pay the salaries of their own national team players while playing in the league. The agreement was touted as a way to give clubs financial relief while ensuring a quality pool of players to develop.

But Cuellar, speaking to The Equalizer on the phone from Mexico City, expressed frustration with how some of his players were used and hinted Mexico could pull out if the FMF isn’t convinced club coaches are interested in maintaining the agreement.

“Some of our players didn’t step on the field the whole season – that is a problem for me,” Cuellar said. “I find it very unprofessional. (September) will be a time for us to make some decisions.”

The 12 Mexican national team players in the NWSL averaged around 500 minutes in about 10 games each. But the differential is large. The three most active Mexican players appeared in almost all 22 regular season games and each played more than 900 minutes out of 1980 total in the season. But on the other end, three Mexican allocated players each clocked less than 100 minutes for the season, including Flash goalkeeper Pamela Tajonar and Boston’s Anisa Guajardo, who didn’t play at all.

There’s the theory, however, that Mexican players benefit from their allocations even without game time. The structured, regular training in a team environment for five months out of the year is not something the Mexican national team can replicate. Monica Gonzalez, a former captain for the Mexican national team and now an ESPN soccer reporter, said as much while doing color commentary for a Chicago Red Stars game in June.

“Even though (some) of the Mexican players in this league aren’t getting playing time, every single day in practice they are getting a level of training quite frankly they’ve never gotten before,” she said, adding that Mexico stands to gain more from the league than Canada or the U.S.

Teams around the world, including Mexico, are chasing the No. 1 FIFA-ranked U.S. national team. In part, it comes down to resources. The FMF can’t pour the amount of money into their women’s team that U.S. Soccer can. Without the NWSL, U.S. Soccer would probably host extended residency camps for their players as they have in the past.

But Cuellar said the Mexican team could take advantage of FIFA dates and plan more international friendlies if it would be more beneficial to his players. The team does not have the budget to both subsidize NWSL salaries and travel for international friendlies throughout the year, he said.

In addition to the Sept. 3 friendly against the U.S., Mexico will play in Canada in October and November and is considering going to Asia at the end of September, he said.

The participation of the Mexican players started off a bit rocky. The Mexican players arrived to their NWSL teams less than two weeks before the season began while American and Canadian players had participated in preseason games. Originally, Mexico committed to sending 16 players to the league, but with short notice sent 12 – one went to play for another league, one was injured and two failed fitness tests.

Despite concerns, the FMF wants to continue its partnership with the league, Cuellar said. He called the NWSL important for CONCACAF’s growth and to “finally fulfill expectations of building a good solid league” in the top-ranked women’s soccer country. But the allocation system needs to be changed, he said.

“The player needs to earn her position on the field. Through discipline, hard work, her attitude, her application of tactics and concepts, she is responsible to earn her spot, right?” Cuellar said. “What I see is that a lot of the coaches didn’t want our players. When they have a player allocated to them, it was very possible it was not what their team needed. The coaches in the league need to be more active in the decision-making about the allocation of the players.”

Bailey said the league will work out the allocation process for 2014 after this season. There is no expected deadline to have the process finalized and it will depend on when the three national team coaches select players for allocation, she said.

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