Fifth Pick In NWSL Draft Decides To Play In Mexico Instead Of Orlando

It’s o-Fishel — after a week of rumors, the anticipated Mia Fishel Tigres signing was announced Friday afternoon. The U.S. youth national teamer and former UCLA Bruin chose to join the Liga MX Femenil club instead of the Orlando Pride, who drafted her with the fifth overall pick in the 2022 NWSL Draft less than a month ago.

Fishel, a dynamic 20-year-old forward, is one of the young rising stars in the USWNT, having been called into the recent U-23 camp scheduled for Jan. 23-28. She’ll join a UANL squad that finished as runner-up in the 2021 Apertura campaign. 

“It’s always been my dream to make history, to open doors in places that I didn’t think would let me in, because that’s what being a woman athlete is all about,” Fishel said in her announcement video. “I’m excited to join this team to continue to create change on and off the field and inspire the next generation together.”

Fishel’s decision to go to Liga MX Femenil over the NWSL is an unusual one, especially considering new Pride coach Amanda Cromwell was Fishel’s coach at UCLA. Most Americans who have played in Liga MX Femenil previously have been Mexico dual nationals like Maria Sánchez, who left Tigres for the Houston Dash earlier this month. Each Liga MX Femenil club is allowed two foreign players.

Fishel was born in the U.S. and has appeared at various levels of the USWNT youth ranks. She won Golden Balls at the 2020 Concacaf U-20 Championship and the 2016 Concacaf U-15 Championship. She was a finalist for 2020 and 2021 U.S. Soccer Young Female Player of the Year awards and scored at the 2018 U-17 World Cup. Though Fishel hasn’t appeared for the senior USWNT, she has participated in senior USWNT camps previously. 

For Tigres, this is a huge coup to nab one of college soccer’s best players over the last couple of years. The two-time All-American finished her college career with 32 goals — an incredible 16 of them match winners. 

Also on Friday, Fishel announced she is the newest The Marketing Jersey athlete. In announcing the Tigres decision, she referenced “sold out stadiums” and “global media recognition” as reasons for signing with Tigres. 

For Orlando, this must be a gut punch. Fishel would have gone a long way to replacing the lost attacking power with Alex Morgan moving to San Diego Wave, though signing Darian Jenkins from the KC Current will help. Though Marta is still on the roster (for now, at least), Sydney Leroux remains one of the few marketable stars after Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris went to Gotham after the 2021 season. 

Specifics for the Mia Fishel Tigres deal have not been made public, but reports suggest she’ll make more money in Mexico. It’s also possible the potential to play for a club with an historic following may have played a role in her decision. Though Tigres Femenil have only been around for six years, they’re linked with the men’s club, a seven-time Liga MX champion. The club is planning to build a beautiful new stadium set to open in 2025

While overall average attendance is currently higher in the NWSL than Liga MX Femenil, the playoffs draw massive crowds surpassing 50,000, double the NWSL record attendance. The crowds for the two legs of the Apertura final a few weeks ago were 34,191 and 36,843 as Monterrey edged UANL in a thrilling shootout. UANL averaged a league-high 7,235 fans in the Apertura regular season, which is above the NWSL (and Orlando) average.

This is an exciting time for Fishel and Tigres fans. Liga MX Femenil has steadily become one of the most exciting women’s leagues in the world. While still lagging behind in quality compared to the NWSL and some of the top European leagues, Mexico is showing a commitment to women’s soccer that could help the league close the gap. 

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