Mia Fishel interview: Comunicado O-Fishel – Tigres’ natural born thriller

Of the top-level women’s leagues around the world, Mexico’s Liga MX Femenil currently occupies a unique spot. A burgeoning competition capable of astounding support, it rocks to its own rhythm, not unlike the young American striking star who outshot them all in Apertura 2022.

If there is a quiet acceptance that a first-year professional needs time to find their feet, Mia Fishel did not get the memo. Then again, hopes were undeniably higher than most for the Tigres UANL forward, whose January 2022 signing was hailed as a coup for Liga MX Femenil, with Orlando Pride’s top draft pick opting against the NWSL altogether.

Tigres’ pursuit has been emphatically rewarded, with the U.S. Women’s National Team prospect finishing as the league’s leading scorer as Las Amazonas went all the way in the recent Apertura. While the women’s game has its established frontrunners when it comes to the perceived strength of domestic divisions, Mexico can viably claim to have the most intriguing at present.

Outside respect has been steadily on the increase, while its heavy base of homegrown players has meshed with the overseas contingent to flavourful effect. A league that carries unique energy has proved the ideal platform for Tigres’ number ten, a character who feels a connection to the unconventional, as she describes via another of her loves – music.

“I want to do things differently, I’m not a ‘mainstream’ type of person. I don’t listen to the radio and I think that kind of separated me; most of my teammates growing up didn’t listen to hip-hop/rap, they would listen to radio songs.

“I would say that kind of shows in my life as well, I don’t do things the ‘normal’ way. My favourite rap artist is Lil Uzi Vert, so I listened to him when I was younger; I just liked how different he was.

“He rapped differently and what he was speaking about I think just hit home for me; just different ways of life. Music was a big kind of escape from my problems, things I was going through from a day-to-day basis.

“Music, when I was little, just grounded me, made sure I stayed calm. It definitely is a huge part of my life, from hip-hop to get ready for games/training, to slower r&b music, like SZA, Summer Walker, Jhené Aiko, if I want to be calmer in my life.”

After the current interlude, the show starts again shortly in Liga MX Femenil, with the second half of the traditional split-season format, the Clausura. The most successful team in the competition’s five-year history, Tigres are now on the hunt for their sixth title, having appeared in eight of the ten finals to date.

The club overall is a social-media behemoth, with the women’s team now having its on and off-field personality showcased to scores of followers. As many clubs have now tapped into, nothing seems to facilitate player expression and alternative content quite like music, with Tigres’ squad never needing too much encouragement on that front.

Even off the camera, entertainment is a given, as Mia, scorer of 33 goals overall in 2022, gets to see daily.

“My team’s super fun. Jana Gutiérrez, she’s the famous TikToker, so she knows all the latest music, usually playing Bad Bunny.

“There’s a lot of Bad Bunny fans on Tigres, so we mainly listen to him, and some other popular artists like Don Omar; reggaeton music, for sure.”

Although the assumption may be that a team’s head coach is kept somewhat separate from that, there are many who vividly remember Tigres boss Carmelina Moscato in her relatively-recent playing days! As her long-time Canada teammate, goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé revealed on this site back in December 2014: “I love every time Carmelina gets into a song and gets singing and dancing. It’s more of an interpretive dance style, but her dance moves are some of the most diverse I have ever seen!”

The former defender is now a studious and devoted coach, already dedicating years to her post-playing craft in a variety of roles. Nevertheless, do those aforementioned moves ever come out of storage for a special occasion, like a championship celebration perhaps?

“She has the perfect balance of seriousness and also keeping it light,” Mia explains. “She knows that we’re a team, we’re fun, and outside soccer, we’re humans.”

“After we just won (the final against Club América), there was a big celebration right outside the stadium, where there was family, friends, our team had a whole dancefloor and she was out there dancing with all of us. We all celebrated as a family, so it was really cool.”

Mia officially became an Adidas athlete last July, an affiliation which also saw her recently invited to a Bad Bunny experience (not a Fatal Attraction reference), centred around the Latin music titan’s Estadio Azteca concert.

“It was an Adidas global activation, they said, ‘Hey, she’s an hour away from Mexico City, why not bring her?’ The success I had on the field prior to this event, with winning the championship and the Golden Boot, they brought me out and it was an amazing experience, just to get to know Mexico City more, because usually when I visit different areas, it’s soccer-focused, so I can’t really go out and see the cities.

“The Bad Bunny concert was cool because I can understand Spanish more, I just can’t speak it that well, but I listen to Bad Bunny so much with my teammates, on the bus, in the locker room, anywhere that we’re at. It was cool to recognise the songs, because I don’t really know word for word, but I was able to vibe with the crowd and what he was saying because of how often I was listening to it in Mexico.”

The 21-year-old has had more than a taste herself of putting on a show for a large-scale, expectant audience. After scoring 17 in as many Apertura regular-season games, she struck the third of her Liguilla goals in the semi-final second-leg win over local rivals Monterrey, with the subsequent final against América played before a combined 94,269 fans across two legs.

Tigres reported a Mexican TV audience of 2.88 million for the second match, the largest for a women’s game in North America, with hundreds of thousands more watching online. Alluding in the past to not feeling especially nervous before games, Mia details music’s part in her matchday routine, and just how much careful planning she affords it.

“I literally look up how far the stadium is from our hotel to plan my songs, what I’m going to play! I usually start off with mellow r&b to calm myself so I don’t get too hyped too early, because I can get a little bit overwhelmed or too antsy if I play more hip-hop/rap, faster songs.

“I make sure that around 15 minutes before (kick-off), I start hyping it up a little bit more, just to get a little fire in me. When the game starts, I need to make sure that I’m as calm as possible; I can’t be too antsy or riled up because then it will show in my game.”

Twice a finalist for U.S. Soccer’s Young Female Player of the Year award (2020 and 2021), the San Diegan has fast emerged as one of the foremost up-and-coming forwards around. There is an excitement and magnetism about her, a player with predatory instinct, ready to seize upon any momentary lapse, with aerial prowess, acceleration to burn past defenders, and close control all part of a formidable skill set.

Her progress was rewarded with a first senior international call-up from Vlatko Andonovski in October 2020 for a training camp, with the then-19-year-old the youngest squad member. Her ascent through the youth teams came alongside the likes of Washington Spirit sensation Trinity Rodman, with the pair starring in the U.S. success at 2020’s Concacaf Under-20 Championship, in which Mia won Golden Ball while setting a new 13-goal record for an American player in a qualifying tournament.

With Mia among the chief finishers during the climb through the age levels, it was a Tar Heel talent whose service could most be relied upon before the games began.

“Talia DellaPeruta from UNC (University of North Carolina), she was our DJ throughout that whole kind of cycle, I would say. She would play hip-hop, rap, a lot of pop just to get the team ready as well.”

Among the latest crop of former UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) players to make an impact at pro level, Mia’s decision to forgo her final year of college eligibility has been proven worthwhile. Nevertheless, it was not an easy goodbye, after three seasons as a Bruin, during which she scored 32 times (assisting 14) in 59 games (55 starts).

In a team featuring Chelsea’s Canadian midfield star Jessie Fleming, Mia was top scorer (14) on the way to 2019’s College Cup semi-final in her freshman year. Memories in the blue and gold were plentiful, and very often, sonic-powered.

“We had music throughout all of our things that we did at UCLA. From the locker room just chilling before practice, we played music with our boombox.

“Warm-up, I would be on aux, to get the team ready for every practice. We even had a shared playlist for our ups for the games, so they had it on the big screen and they’d use our music that we wanted, so it was a big thing.

“We would play ‘Big Rings’ by Drake (and Future) a lot, so the ‘big team…big rings,’ that was kind of our motivational thing to get us ready for games. A lot of Drake, rappers like Gunna, Young Thug, to get us hyped.”

She encountered the college-soccer favourite of the team bus falling silent while a headphone-clad freshman sings along for initiation (while unable to hear themselves). The honour of Mia’s backing track went to ‘Juke Jam’ (Chance the Rapper featuring Justin Bieber and Towkio).

No such task awaited her when joining Tigres, though what if she had to professionally record a cover song, alongside one or more teammate from her time in soccer so far?

“My best friend Leyla McFarland, I played with her since I was really young, I would want to sing with her ‘Good Day’ (Greg Street featuring Nappy Roots). That’s a song that I go to and associate with our younger selves, so I would definitely want to sing that song with her.”

Part of the new wave she may be, but she takes time to pay tribute to a legend, after the curtain came down on a historic run with some retirement news in 2022. A figure that changed the game, reinventing itself at times along the way, Mia remembers…the iPod, of course.

“I did not use any CDs, that’s for sure,” she laughs. “But I remember specifically, it was Christmas time, I really loved music and I really wanted something that I could have all my music on.”

“I was really young, eight or nine, and my parents got me the iPod shuffle, the little rectangle! It was my first little music thing, it was bright blue, and I loved it so much; I listened to it before every training, every game.

“The only thing that I can remember (as a first album or single bought) is the Nicki Minaj ‘Pink Friday’ album; I remember downloading that whole album and I was like, ‘This is amazing!’”

Nicki Minaj was also her first concert, while getting to see Beyoncé during her ‘Formation World Tour’ was especially awe-inspiring for a 15-year-old Mia. Given the choice of anyone from all-time to see perform, Lil Uzi Vert would be her golden pick.

Live shows come under the category of activities she would dedicate more time to if she could. Some recent respite from Tigres’ pre-season came her way when she returned home to California during the festive period.

There is a proud Bermudian side to her family background, while Mia strongly associates home with memories of life around the beach In San Diego.

I remember in high school, I would just go with my friends on car rides, playing music that was popular at the time, that made us laugh. We would just sing in the car; it was kind of therapeutic for us.

“I did a lot of bonfires as well growing up and we’d always have a speaker there, listening to music and just vibing. I think music connects people, and that’s another reason why I love music so much.”

Last year began with the script being flipped, after she had initially been selected at number five overall in the 2022 NWSL Draft by Orlando Pride. The lack of control she felt – a long-time, notorious feature of life in general for NWSL players – with determining where her career was about to begin had left an unsatisfying taste.

Within a few weeks, her move instead to Tigres was announced, with the club’s communication, which had included a half-hour presentation centred around their plans for her, making a firm impression. She tells how help with the day-to-day details has always been on hand since her arrival in Monterrey, from accommodation to obtaining her driving licence.

The notion of knowing your worth is more pertinent than ever in the women’s game, and for young players, to draw upon the advice of those who have been there and done it can help immeasurably. Mia recalls a meeting with a figure who has been a strong and willing voice in her career – an experienced international, a fellow forward, and a Bruin to boot.

“I had a really good conversation with Sydney Leroux when I was at Angel City (for last August’s friendly with Tigres). She was just talking to me about how I’m liking it in Mexico and ‘what’s the next steps, where are you gonna go?’

“I’m like, ‘Honestly, I don’t know.’ I’m kind of a person who’s in the present, I don’t really think too far in the future, I just let my play speak for me and what happens after is what happens.

“Her advice was just kind of what I’m doing now, ‘Stay in the present moment, enjoy soccer, keep having fun, because it’s a long career and you don’t want to get burned out too early.’ She was saying, ‘If you wanna explore other leagues, do it, because it’s part of life to experience different people, other leagues, and you’re gonna be a better player because of that.’

“I think coming to Mexico, it was difficult; the pressure of being a U.S. player coming to Mexico, I had to perform, I had to be a star here. I did it with my hard work and consistency, and I think it adds a lot to my character.

“On the mindset and that advice, you never want to settle. You don’t just want to do things because ‘it’s easy and I’m comfortable with these people and this location.’

“I think it’s advice that I will definitely keep in mind going forward.”

Speaking previously about how often she will be recognised when out in public in Mexico, she gives a little more detail into the sheer extent of that.

“Yeah, it’s every day. It’s good going to San Diego because I can step out and I don’t have to worry about someone asking for a photo or video.

“Every time I leave my house, I have to make sure that I kind of look ready for a photo or video, because it’s anywhere I go! As soon as I go out, people recognise me in the car, restaurants, I’m getting stopped by people on a regular basis.

“Initially, I was surprised how much men would come up and ask for a photo, ‘You’re an amazing soccer star, I’ve watched you and I love your game.’ It’s kind of different in the States, I wouldn’t expect that.”

Her current standing hit home all the more when she was asked by a friend to make a presentation to one young supporter.

“I walk out and there’s a 16-year-old girl, and as soon as she sees me with the cleats, she starts crying, like bawling her eyes out. I’m looking at my friend like, ‘What do I do?’

“I just gave her a hug but it was like ‘wow.’ It was just an eye-opener to how many people are following me and what I can do with that, and I’m still thinking of ways to give back to them.”

Asked about the coaching style she responds best to, she makes what might be a surprising admission on how she feels when attention is on her, given the impressive assurance with which she always speaks, and the charisma and creative expression she exudes.

“I’m a very mellow person. I’m introverted, I don’t like being out there in the spotlight, I really don’t like it.

“So, something that really gets me going, I think it comes from myself, not so much outside of me, because you can’t control what’s outside of you. Yeah, it’s nice to hear what I can do for the team and how I’m helping the team grow, but I think it more comes with my goals and my aspirations with trying to be the best soccer player in the world.

“That is what drives me to be better, to want more.”

A fishing enthusiast with her father since a young age, she pinpoints one of her other interests, which she has been finding slightly more accessible of late. She tells too how she has been captivated by a multi-talented teenage prodigy, who might also have the credentials to rival her on the dancefloor.

“I love Legos, I love building; I just bought the gauntlet of Thanos to work on in Mexico, so that’s another thing that grounds me between trainings and just day-to-day life. Shows, right now, Wednesday was amazing; I finished that a couple weeks ago.

“I love the character, I love the plot. I’d never even watched The Addams Family, I wasn’t familiar with it, but it made me want to watch it now!”

Liga MX Femenil may still have strides to make, including greater reward for those at the lower end of the pay scale, but there is encouragement to be taken from the overall progress of a competition that was initially closed off to all but Mexican-born players. The increase to four international spots per team has seemingly brought invaluable added influences, of which Mia can certainly claim a part.

The first Golden Boot winner from overseas, while strengthening her case for a national-team call this season, she has in the process been helping fly the flag for the Mexican women’s game. In preparation for Clausura 2023, the ‘Big Fish’ ends here by making a cameo in an impromptu (and imaginary) match-up.

As has been the way on this site over the years, it is down to the interviewee to step into small-sided mode, selecting four teammates from their time in the game to play alongside them in this fantasy scenario. The emphasis is on enjoyment, so here are four starting examples of the various players Mia believes would definitely bring the good times.

“Leyla (McFarland), my best friend who I played with since I was like seven, because she would make it a lot of fun. Jessie Fleming, obviously her, she would definitely help the team.

“Kaiya McCullough, defensive player, and Quincy McMahon, UCLA player right now. I think that would be my five-v-five, that I would have fun with, and destroy other teams with!”

To catch each of these interviews, you can follow me: @chris_brookes

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