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Cuellar says Mexico aims to continue NWSL partnership, but details remain unclear

Leo Cuellar talks to his players after Mexico’s 0-7 loss to the U.S. Details of if and how Mexican players will be subsidized in the NWSL next season remain unclear. (Photo Copyright Caitlin Murray for The Equalizer)

WASHINGTON  –  The Mexican federation is expected to renew its agreement to subsidize players for the National Women’s Soccer League, national team coach Leonardo Cuellar said Tuesday – but he left the door open for changes in that stance.

“The idea is to continue with our commitment and to finalize a few issues with the players and also the teams that want them to be part of their teams,” he said, “so we don’t have a situation like this year,” when many Mexicans saw limited playing time.

Asked for clarification that Mexico would continue its partnership with the NWSL next year, Cuellar said: “That’s the idea at this moment.”

Cuellar told The Equalizer last month that the Mexican Football Federation would not continue to subsidize the salaries of players in the NWSL for 2014 if clubs did not want or use the allocated players.

After an international friendly against the U.S. Tuesday, Cuellar hinted the league was willing to make changes to its allocation process to give coaches more say in which players they received from the league.

When asked about the next steps in negotiations to finalize a partnership for the 2014 season, Cuellar said Tuesday’s 7-0 thrashing at the hands of the U.S. could change the federation’s stance.

“We will have probably a meeting in October. We don’t have a date yet but now the repercussions of a result like this might have an effect in our decision-making from our federation, so I don’t know,” he said after the match.

For the friendly in Washington, D.C. – just three days after the 2013 NWSL Championship – Cuellar called up eight NWSL players. But the result itself did little to make a case for Mexico’s participation in the league after the U.S. clobbered an unorganized Mexico side and scored five goals by halftime.

In the NWSL, Mexican allocated players averaged about 500 minutes and 10 games each out of the 1980 minutes and 22 games in the regular season. None of them reached 1,000 minutes of playing time and three played less than 100.

Forward Veronica Perez said that Cuellar received feedback from the team as a group, but they would be speaking to him individually about their experiences in the NWSL.

Perez spent the 2013 season allocated to the Western New York Flash, where she played in every game, but averaged half a game per appearance. She said she plans to return to the NWSL next season, but expects changes to the allocation system.

“We’re trying to figure out what’s going to happen next year because I think some teams didn’t know about the players they were allocated,” Perez said after Tuesday’s game. “They were picking players in the draft and doing research on college players they knew from the U.S. to try to form their teams and then maybe they got a surprise with which Mexican players they got.

“Maybe they didn’t really need them or have them in mind when they were trying to form their teams, so I think that was a disadvantage for some of the Mexicans. Maybe a team needed a forward but they got a defender. I think that was a little hard for some of the Mexicans because they didn’t feel as valued or as needed when they got into a certain team.”

The U.S. Soccer Federation announced the formation of NWSL late last year and reached agreements with the Canadian Soccer Association and Mexican Football Federation to pay the salaries of their own national team players while playing in the league. To balance the league’s competition, a committee distributed players from each federation across clubs evenly.

Cuellar said the league would be making changes directed at addressing the needs of all three federations, not just Mexico. Cuellar declined to share specifics, referring The Equalizer to the league. A spokesman for the NWSL declined comment, citing “ongoing discussions.”

Perez believes Mexico should continue the agreement. The national team players have the talent to compete in the league and need to go into next season with more confidence, she said.

“Being a Mexican allocated player, it worked out well for us because we got six months of really good training. But also at the other end, maybe we needed a bit more playing time,” she said. “To be able to get develop and get better in these types of games, we need more playing time, but we need to earn that. So I think us Mexicans need to prepare better before we go into a season so we can earn our spots.”

Asked if he had seen improvement from his players since joining the NWSL, Cuellar said Tuesday’s matchup was too uneven to be sure. Mexico will play two matches in Switzerland at the end of the month for the Valais Cup, starting with China on Sept. 22 – a similar opponent that will provide better insight, he said.

“It’s a big jump for us to come and play against a team that is fully active, not just playing professionally in the league but also taking advantage of the FIFA dates,” Cuellar said of the decisive loss Tuesday. “Last year, [the U.S.] played around 30 matches so it’s a big disadvantage. We need to review our team and make the proper adjustments in order to stay as close as possible to these powerful teams.”

Mexico will also play Canada on Nov. 24 in Vancouver, Canada announced on Thursday.

The U.S. women’s national team went into the match at RFK Stadium having played 11 matches together this year. The Mexican national team had only played four. During the NWSL season, Mexico’s team was completely inactive while the U.S. pulled players from their clubs for three friendly matches, which coach Tom Sermanni said was necessary for team development.

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