Jacquie Ovalle opens up about her journey and 'La Maga' nickname

Growing up in Aguascalientes city, in central Mexico, Lizbeth Jaqueline Ovalle didn't think she had any prospects of being a professional footballer. Now she's inspiring millions and in a Gold Cup semifinal.

Jacquie Ovalle opens up about her journey and 'La Maga' nickname
'La Maga' playing for Mexico at the 2024 W Gold Cup | Courtesy of Concacaf

Growing up in Aguascalientes city, in central Mexico, Lizbeth Jaqueline Ovalle didn't think she had any prospects of being a professional footballer. Now she's inspiring millions and in a W Gold Cup semifinal.

When Ovalle was a child and teenager in the 2000s and 2010s, Mexico didn't have a professional women's football league. LigaMX Femenil wouldn't arrive until 2017, when she was turning 18.

"The truth is, it has been very difficult [for me]," Ovalle told the Mexico national team's social channels on Monday. "At the beginning, there was no women's soccer, I mean, it was my dream to play, to move the game forward. I had many setbacks."

On rundown pitches, Ovalle cut her teeth playing against local boys teams in her city. A few bad experiences almost pushed her away from the sport completely.

The Mexico winger remarked about one match that stands out in her memory, where one of the opposing team's parents shouted at their child to intentionally foul her, to take her out of the game. While she heard others criticize their children for losing to a girl, and that if her team lost it was she who cost them the game.

"These kinds of comments were the ones that made me think at some point I would stop playing football. I mean, I really started to think that I don't think football is for me."

Ovalle credits her father with helping her to persist on her path of playing football in an environment that was antagonistic towards her. His words of praise helped her realize that she did have the ability to go to the top of the game.

Progressing through the ranks of regional levels, and into the girls' game, Ovalle eventually started playing for the top youth women's team in the state of Aguascalientes. There she met a friend Daniela who told her of U17 national tryouts taking place in Mexico City.

Ovalle and some of her peers packed themselves into one car and as one parent drove them seven hours to the nation's capital to make sure Ovalle could get in front of the national team scouts.

"I remember that at that time I was, I think, about 14 years old. My mother told me that yes, it was fine. So a group of friends went, there were four of us that time. I remember that they were filtering the players down," she said.

"So I stayed until the very last one, they asked me for my information, and the following month they called me to the U17 team and that's how I got to the National Team."

Courtesy of FIFA

With Liga MX Femenil finally cleared for take-off, by 2017, Ovalle had earned a scholarship to go and play for UANL Tigres, 575km North in Monterrey.

The move changed the winger's life forever. And the creation of the professional league helped to develop her game at a rapid speed.

"To be at one of the best clubs in Mexico. For me, it was everything. But when they told us that there was going to be a league in Mexico, we didn't know the magnitude."

At just 17, Ovalle was an instant star in the inaugural season for Tigres. And even scored in the Liguilla Semifinals against Pachuca at the Estadio Universitario, where the Nuevo Leon club's debut season came to an untimely end.

Now 24, Ovalle has made 226 appearances for Tigres and has scored 97 goals for the club, winning six league titles and two 'Cup of Champions' along the way.

But it was at the international level, in 2018, Ovalle's star began to rise amongst the world's elite.

As an 18-year-old, she and Mexico won the Concacaf U20 Championship and then traveled to France for the U20 World Cup where the winger scored the goal of the tournament against Brazil. Although Mexico was knocked out in the Group Stage, Ovalle found the back of the net in every match she played, finishing with four goals.

On Wednesday night, Mexico will meet Brazil again. This time in the semifinal of the 2024 W Gold Cup. Four of those Brazil players – who watched on as Ovalle scored a brace and Mexico won 3-2 – will be in the Selecao's squad for the rematch.

"Why do they call me that?"

Over the years, playing in Monterrey, Ovalle has earned the nickname 'La Maga' which translates as The Magician. Where the moniker originates from, though, she's not sure.

"The truth is I just don't remember very well. I mean, one day I got on Twitter and saw that they were calling me: Maga. At first, I thought why? Why do they call me that? It probably comes from my style of play."

Ovalle believes fans saw her goals as "fantasy" and that's what led to the nickname. There was magic in her boots. A spell on the ball. When people see her make things happen, out of nothing, that is the essence of 'La Maga'.

In Mexico, the winger has become synonymous with close control, slaloming skills, twists, dribbles, crossing into the box, and shooting at the near post from inconceivable angles.

Even though Ovalle didn't set out to covet a nickname, she is enjoying the association with magic. Her style of play now feels like it suits 'La Maga'. "I feel like it's something that really does represent me," she said.

Beyond winning the 2024 W Gold Cup, Ovalle's mind is set on being a role model. Growing up without many mentors or positive influences as a young girl in football, she wants to inspire the next generation of magicians.

She's proud to be part of the change. And to witness how different it is now to how she grew up in Aguascalientes a decade ago.

"I never expected it, and it feels nice that girls that are so young admire you and watch your games, because I tell you, when I was little it was difficult to think about something like that."

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