Mónica Flores might have grown up in New Jersey, but her heart is in Mexico. The defender, who currently plays for Rayadas de Monterrey in Liga MX Femenil and for the Mexican Women’s National Team, was instrumental in helping Rayadas to their second ever championship win this past December.
Getting to this moment took a lot of self discovery for the 26 year old outside back, who had a journey that brought her from New Jersey to Indiana to Spain before finally finding her home in Mexico. But it was that journey, complete with its ups and downs, that made finding her home in Mexico all that more meaningful.
A New Jersey Childhood
Growing up in Livingston, Flores’ athleticism was apparent at a very young age. Along with her twin sister Sabrina Flores, who currently plays for Gotham FC in the National Women’s Soccer League, the Flores twins always loved sports. Although they tried their hand at a few different ones, they ultimately settled on soccer, drawn to the team aspect of the game. “Growing up and playing in New Jersey was great, because the state is one of the main soccer hubs in the country,” Flores told Jersey Sporting News. “There was so much opportunity.”
As young children, the pair played for the Livingston Lynx, a U12 team near their home, before joining SDFC, another club team in New Jersey. Flores felt grateful that her parents were able to invest both time and money to get her and her sister into the clubs because playing soccer at the youth level in the United States comes with a price tag. “To commit to bringing your kids to every practice is time-consuming and expensive,” she said.
It was together as kids that Flores and her sister Sabrina learned the importance of consistency. Every day before practice, they would get 10,000 touches on the ball in their backyard. Their schedule revolved around soccer, whether it was on their club teams, or playing with boys teams when the girls teams weren’t in season. “We loved everything about it,” Flores said.
During their junior and senior years of high school, they trained and played at PDA, a “soccer powerhouse” in New Jersey. There, the Flores sisters won two national championships and were both recruited to Notre Dame University. “I’m grateful for the opportunities in New Jersey,” Flores said. “It was a great experience.”
It was difficult to always compete with my sister, so when I had the opportunity to create my own path, it was important for me to just be Mónica.
Now that Flores is in Mexico, she has seen first hand the difference in opportunity of youth soccer in the two countries. . “There’s a lot more accessibility here,” she explained. “Even during my two years playing in Spain, it was incredible to see clubs recruiting girls to play, and it was all free.” In Mexico, there’s no such thing as paying to play. Soccer at a young age is much more accessible, due in part to the country’s U17 program. “It’s nowhere near an economic burden on families like it is in the U.S.,” Flores said. “It’s not even a question.”
Forging Her Own Path
Flores did not intend to play for the Mexican Women’s National Team. In fact, she was part of the U.S. national pool at the U15 level. But when her sister got called into the U17 camps, Flores did not. The pair both played collegiately at the University of Notre Dame, and the school hosted the Mexican Women’s National Team U20 program for a match her freshman year. “My coach asked me if I would like to be checked out by the Mexican team since my father is Mexican,” Flores said. “Of course, I would go for an amazing opportunity like that.”
After the game, Flores got called into camp with the Mexican team. The whole process of getting her Mexican passport and going down there for training brought her closer to her father, which is something she cherishes. Despite the overwhelmingly positive parts of this new journey, Flores was nervous. “I was a reserved person and nervous to make the change and go somewhere unfamiliar,” she explained. “But when I got there, it became a pivotal experience of my life.”
My escape and happiness came when I got called into Mexican national team camp. Getting called into the full team helped me feel refreshed and gave me a push to continue.
Since that first camp, Flores has fallen more and more in love with her Mexican culture and feels naturally comfortable in the country. It was during her time in the U20 program that she truly flourished, felt respected, and started to become her own person, separate from the close bond she shared with her twin sister.
“I loved that I was creating my own path, that was important to me,” Flores explained. “It was very hard to compete with Sabrina growing up - in U15 camp, at clubs, and in college.” To Flores, it felt like her sister was always the one getting opportunities, and Flores was chasing her and riding the bench. “It was difficult to always compete with my sister,” she explained, especially since the two both play the same defensive position. “So when I had the opportunity to create my own path, it was important for me to just be Mónica.”
Now, people are surprised to learn that Flores has a twin sister who plays in the United States. But just because the two play for separate sides, doesn’t mean their professional paths never crossed. In fact, in 2016, the sisters faced off against each other in U20 qualifiers and at the U20 World Cup, with the U.S. ultimately defeating Mexico in the quarterfinals by 2-1. “We were really happy for each other - both on different paths but both doing what we love,” Flores said.
Finding their own ways to forge their unique paths but keep their twin bond has been difficult but necessary for the pair. Even though they’re separated by over 2,000 miles, the Flores sisters do not let that stop them from staying connected and sharing their experiences. “We talk every day, but it’s good to be independent,” Flores said. “And I think that was important for Sabrina, too.”
A Sense of Belonging
Flores always enjoyed connecting to her Mexican roots while growing up. They would visit her grandma twice a year in Mexico, and she always looked forward to those trips. It wasn’t until her experience with the U20 team, living and playing with other girls from Mexico, that she started to feel closer to her culture. “I was happy to have that real connection and love for Mexico,” Flores explained. “I feel it in my blood.”
When Flores went pro in 2018, she played for two years in Valencia, Spain. She missed her Mexican roots, and felt the culture in Spain was so different from the Latin American culture she had grown to love. “My escape and happiness came when I got called into Mexican national team camp,” Flores said. “Getting called into the full team helped me feel refreshed and gave me a push to continue.”
In 2020, her contract with Valencia ended, and the opportunity to join C.F. Monterrey in Liga MX Femenil was among her options for her next step. The women’s league, which was formed in 2016 and began competition in 2017 currently has 18 teams, each owned and operated by a corresponding men’s side. The leagues split their seasons into two halves, an Apertura tournament that takes place from July to December, and a Clausura tournament that runs from January to May.
“I was nervous because I loved being in camp, but living in Mexico was another story,” Flores said. “But I had a good feeling in my gut.” This leap of faith turned out to be the best decision Flores could make for herself. “I get to play for a top team and it’s been the greatest time of my life,” she said. “I could see myself living here forever.” Flores feels connected with the culture, gets to train and play in a competitive environment, and has learned a lot about herself in the process.
For Flores, being rooted in Mexico has brought her even more in touch with her culture, and made her realize how much more comfortable she feels in Mexico than back in the United States. “U.S. culture is always, go, go, go - and that’s what I did all my life,” she explained. “I was fatigued by that.” Even when she goes back, she feels the grind of American culture and after a week she’s ready to head back to her new home.
Flores loves every bit of the culture in Mexico and relates more closely with the “go with the flow” nature. “I just feel a lot more myself and at ease being in a more relaxed environment,” she said. And it’s this feeling that has allowed Flores to thrive in Liga MX Femenil.
En La Vida Y En La Cancha
Prior to the creation of Liga MX Femenil, there was a lack of a structured professional league for women in Mexico. Flores believes that having the structure of Liga MX Femenil has contributed to the upward trajectory of the Mexican Women’s National Team. “There’s no reason to believe that it has not been helping,” she explained. “Before the league, where did they expect to get any growth if your players don’t have a pro team to go to?”
Now, there’s a professional league filled with players that are hungry to compete and train on a daily basis. Liga MX Femenil provides players with a competitive environment, and the league has had exponential growth since its inception in 2017. “There’s been growth with the fan base, the opportunities, the resources, the competition, and the level of play,” Flores said. “You can train every day at the pro level, and when you get called into the national team, you’re prepared.”
Flores is flourishing with her club team, C.F. Monterrey Femenil. The motto of the team is "En La Vida Y En La Cancha," which translates to “in life and on the pitch.” Everything they do and who the players are as people is meant to translate both in their lives and on the soccer field. “Our values translate back and forth, and it’s become my personal motto for life,” Flores said. “Our team is very united.”
According to Flores, the fan base in Monterrey is the best in the world, strengthened by the regional rivalry with Tigres UANL Femenil - a matchup known as the Clásico Regiomontano. “It’s a big rivalry,” Flores explained. “If you ask someone on the street, they’ll say they're either Tigres or Rayadas - people here breathe football, which is amazing.” Because of this passionate rivalry, the fan support is unlike anything Flores has ever seen. In fact, the matchup has previously broken attendance records in professional women's soccer.
Since joining Rayadas, Flores has made it to two finals and won the most recent campaign. On December 20, 2021, Flores and the Rayadas became champions of the Apertura, the first of two tournaments in the season. In a two-leg thriller, the Rayadas defeated Tigres 3-1 on penalties after drawing 2-2 on aggregate. This was the second championship for the Rayadas, who also won the 2019 Apertura.
For Flores, winning this championship was a culmination of hard work on an individual and team level. “Playing Tigres is like putting your life on the line,” Flores said of the intense rivalry. “The fans are insane!” Going into Apertura 2021, the team felt the opportunity in the air. “No one said it, but everyone knew,” Flores said. “We were all in overdrive.”
¡Rayadas campeonas del Apertura 2021! ⭐️⭐️ pic.twitter.com/EmFfYf7Hkg
— Soy Rayado 🌟 (@SomosRayados) December 21, 2021
The playoffs process was extremely intense, with games two or three days a week. When they got to the final, the team felt solid knowing that they had used the season to prepare for this moment. The final, played in two legs, started with a tie at Rayadas' home stadium, and ended with a penalty shootout at Tigres’s stadium. “We won it, and it was the greatest feeling in the world,” Flores said. “And we got to shut up the Tigres fans,” she joked. But having that filled stadium with fans from both sides was an experience unlike any other.
As Liga MX Femenil grows, more opportunities to watch the games in the United States have cropped up. While Rayadas games are typically available on Fox Deportes, many other teams make their games available on TUDN or other team-sponsored streams. The young league is full of immense talent and promises to provide a great experience for viewers. “It’s addicting to watch,” Flores said of the league. “And that’s because of the way people express themselves on the field and the amount of passion that goes into the game.”
But to truly have the complete experience of watching a Liga MX Femenil game, Flores says you have to be there. Seeing a game live and being immersed in the sights and sounds provides the ultimate experience. “It’s something you can’t really explain,” she said. “You get attached to that adrenaline and the culture of soccer here. You have to see it to believe it.”
For more information on how to watch Mónica Flores and Las Rayadas, visit the team’s website.
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