The Mexican League Playing American Football: Meet the LFA

Meet the LFA, Mexico's American Football League

For those Mexican expats who are die-hard fans of American football, there is hope for you when the NFL season ends: there is a Mexican league playing American football—and it’s growing.

The LFA (or Liga de Fútbol Americano Profesional) began only a few years ago in 2016. The real powerhouse behind the LFA’s creation is Juan Carlos Vázquez—a Fox Sports commentator. Vázquez was a huge fan of the previous American football league in Mexico called Liga Master, and all his life he had dreamed of creating his own league. He even wrote his MBA thesis on Liga Master and how foreign American football leagues can become successful. After 6 years of work, Juan Carlos Vázquez—along with Edgar Zapata who coaches one of the teams—managed to put together a consortium of investors to create the first Mexican football league in 20 years. He would now begin his second job as the Operational Director of the LFA.

The LFA began with only four teams: three based in Mexico City, and one in the State of Mexico. Each team had a 40-man roster with an additional 5 players allowed during practice. LFA officials are hoping to keep the league Mexican—allowing only two foreign players per team in 2017. These teams played each other only twice during that first regular season. They would have a short playoff, and one team would emerge victorious at the Tazón México—the Mexican version of the Superbowl. They had big dreams of expanding the league to 6 teams by 2018, and even 8 teams by 2020—which would put it on par with the CFL (Canadian Football League).

All games the first couple years were played at the Estadio Jesús Martínez “Palillo” which has a maximum capacity of 6,000, and is located in Mexico City. Attendance was 1,600 on average, it climbed to an average of 1,900 in 2017, and it is steadily increasing. This included 200 – 300 underprivileged children who get in through a government program called the National System for Integral Family Development. The rest of the attendees are largely friends and family of the players—and the die hard fans. During the 2016 season, both sides of the stadium were only used twice: the LFA’s first match ever—the opening game—and the Tazón México. Since then the LFA has expanded to five stadiums through the 2018 season.

However in their opening year, they would have to settle with four original teams:

The Eagles – Miguel Hidalgo, Mexico City

The Condors – Xochimilco, Mexico City

The Mayas – Iztacalco, Mexico City

The Raptors – Naucalpan de Juárez, Estado de México

The Mayas went on to win the Tazón México their opening year, when they defeated the Raptors with a score of 29-13.

The LFA shocked the sports world when it expanded to six teams the very next year. They added two northern teams and they split the divisions into Northern Division and Central Division with three teams in each division—with the Eagles changing their name to the Mexicas after the leaders of the Aztec Empire for which the country is named.

In the second year, the teams were:

– Northern Division –

The Dinos – Saltillo, Coahuila

The Fundidores – Monterrey, Nuevo León

The Raptors – Naucalpan de Juárez, Estado de México

– Central Division –

The Condors – Xochimilco, Mexico City

The Mayas – Iztacalco, Mexico City

The Mexicas – Miguel Hidalgo, Mexico City

The LFA’s sophomore year was filled with challenges to overcome. The fledgling league could only afford to pay players low wages—and so the players often hold second jobs. One is a chef in a fine-dining restaurant, another is a police officer, still others are electrical engineers, and entrepreneurs. Gerardo Gil, the defensive back for the Mayas, doubles as a surgeon. His brother Antonio runs a chicken distribution and production business and plays as a defensive lineman for the Condors. Yet, they face off against each other as equals on the football field. The LFA could only afford to pay the players about $500 USD a month in 2017, though this may have gone up the last year. When teams have to travel to Mexico City to play a game, they fly home that night to avoid travel accommodations and sleeping arrangements.

Still, every team has professional-quality gear, and each team has a complete staff with medical personnel, trainers, and coaching staff. “We hope in a few years that this league can be successful enough that the players can live just from playing,” said Mayas head coach Ernesto Alfaro. They are given a salary and they all have paid medical insurance to protect the player in the case of injury, complications, and high out-of-pocket costs. Each team even has cheerleaders and a mascot.

In 2017, the Mayas repeated their victory at the Tazón México with a 24 – 18 win over the new Dinos of Saltillo.

By the 2018 season, the LFA had increased its games to a respectable 7-game regular season. However in 2018, the LFA faced its own challenges when operational problems led to the cancellation of a game between the Mexicas and the Dinos. Despite this setback, the Mexicas would go on to win the Tazón México giving the Raptors their second 29 – 13 in the Mexican league’s final match. As a special treat, this game was played in Estadio Azul—where the Cruz Azul plays—with a capacity of 33,000 (almost 6 times that of their typical stadium in the LFA).

For 2019, the LFA is looking to the future. Right after the NFL’s superbowl ends, the LFA will begin in hopes of riding the emotions of the American league. They have secured an extra two teams: for the Northern Division, the Osos of Toluca, CDMX, and for the Southern Division, the Artilleros of Puebla City, Puebla—which is one of the fastest-growing and trendiest cities in all of Mexico. These extra teams will come with two extra stadiums increasing the league’s reach to millions more Mexicans. Even more incredible, a press conference was held the 20th of April of 2018, shortly before the latest Tazón México, where it was announced that the league would be adding an additional two teams bringing the total to ten teams in the LFA. This leaves the LFA with more teams than Canada’s CFL.

Some ties have begun between the NFL and the LFA (which can only bring the fledgling league good publicity). Chad Johnson (formerly Chad Ochocinco) played a guest match with the Fundidores of Monterrey in 2017. Also, a linebacker of the Fundidores named Octavio González was invited to try out for the NY Giants minicamp. He performed admirably and is on the NY Giants short list for this 2018 – 2019 season. Overall, the LFA seems to be secure in the coming years while the sport appears to be building a steady fan base.

*Locations and franchises of the latest two expansion teams have not been revealed. For more information, click here.

*The latest expansion has been under speculation, for more information, click here.

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