Alejandro Zendejas: 'I'm enjoying the moment'

Alejandro Zendejas
wants one thing very clear: He's enjoying his first call-up to the U.S. national team.

Speaking from Carson, California, where the USA is preparing for Wednesday's friendly against Serbia in Los Angeles. the 24-year-old Texan said, “I'm enjoying the moment, taking the opportunity that I have this week."

The opportunity is unique on several levels.

It isn't often a player is called in-season into the USA's January camp. Zendejas is coming off an eye-popping performance last Saturday for Mexico's Club America — one goal and one assist plus a shot off the post minutes after he scored his golazo — and has another game for America against Mazatlan FC this Saturday, but the Mexico City giant still agreed to release Zendejas for Wednesday's U.S. game.

"I gotta be honest," said Anthony Hudson, who is coaching the USA at the January camp, "the fact that Club America is letting him come into play against Serbia, and then go back to play for them on the 28th is amazing."

Zendejas' chance to play for the USA is unique in another way. Few players get a chance to play at the senior level for two different countries. But what is unique about his case is that Zendejas will have represented two different countries — Mexico and the USA — at the senior level and still be eligible to play for both teams.

To fulfill its U.S. tour obligations, Mexico played friendlies outside the FIFA window in 2021 and 2022 with mostly Liga MX players. Zendejas, who was born to parents of Mexican descent and played in Mexico the last six years, made senior appearances against Ecuador and Guatemala.

There was one problem, no paperwork was ever filed with FIFA to make Zendejas eligible to play for Mexico. He played for the USA at the 2015 Under-17 World Cup, tying him to the USA until he filed a switch of association and FIFA approved the application.

FIFA recently ordered Mexico to forfeit the national team's two senior friendlies and three under-23 games in which Zendejas played and issued a fine of 10,000 Swiss francs ($10,900) for fielding the ineligible player.

Zendejas is currently eligible to only play for the USA, but he could still file a switch of association to play for Mexico's senior team in the future.

Just what happened when he was called up by Mexico and played for El Tri, why he never filed a switch of associations — then-Mexico coach Tata Martino said last September "it's almost an extortion" that Zendejas didn't finalize his one-time switch — or whether his decision to come into the U.S. camp means he's committed to the USA were all questions Zendejas was asked about on Tuesday.

But he made it clear during media questioning that he did not want to discuss his national team situation, past, present or future.

Is he an American player going forward?

"I'm enjoying the moment and the opportunity that I have this week. I have my mind focused on tomorrow's game."

What's it like to be recruited by two countries?

"It's an honor to be here, enjoying the moment and trying to take advantage of this opportunity not everyone can get."

Is he surprised by all the fuss about the circumstances of playing for Mexico when he was ineligible?

"I'm just enjoying the moment. I'm enjoying this week. It's fun to reconnect with a bunch of players that I used to play with. And like I said, it's an honor to be here."

Does he look forward to having a resolution to his international future and not having to answer questions about it?

"I'm enjoying the moment, enjoying the present. I'd rather live day by day. And then, once the moment comes to choose the future, I'll decide on that."

Zendejas grew up in the U.S youth system early in the last decade with players such as Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Haji Wright and Luca de la Torre, who went with him to the 2015 U-17 World Cup in Chile and represented the USA at the 2022 World Cup. He was reunited in Carson with another former U-17 teammate and fellow Mexican-American Brandon Vazquez.

"Alex is an absolute baller,” said Vazquez, who is also looking for his first U.S. senior cap. “He's so shifty, his velocity and speed is great, and he's amazing on the ball. So playing with him is always really, really fun.”

Zendejas started out at Chivas—where he had to renounce his U.S. international ties—but played just six Liga MX games in two seasons and lost touch with U.S. Soccer.

"I didn't really get much playing time," he said. "I was just focusing on trying to get my opportunity to play, play play."

His career took off after a move to Necaxa in 2020 and then America last season. He has 24 goals in 90 Liga MX games in the last three-plus seasons.

"I made my move to Necaxa and got more playing time," he said. "I guess you can say I got back on the radar. And now that I made this move to Club America, that helped me out a bit."

Gregg Berhalter, the U.S. national team coach at the 2022 World Cup, took notice of Zendejas.

“Back a while ago, Gregg had started that process and had a conversation with Alejandro,” explained Hudson, who was an assistant under Berhalter and is in charge of the team in January. “I think it was really about timing, and I think this opportunity came up."

Hudson said the goal was to use the January camp to bring in players who he described as "young high potentials," players with Olympic eligibility (including five U-20s), dual nationals (some of whom he said could not be brought in due to club commitments) and veterans (including five from the 2022 World Cup team).

"When we put the list together, we put names on there and he was one of them where," Hudson said of Zendejas. "I have to be honest, I didn't think there was any chance we were going to get him, because he's obviously playing in season right now. So when we made the call to the club, the club were amazing, really positive. Very supportive of him coming in. Again, I was shocked. They've been great. And then we spoke to Alejandro and the same thing: He was so excited to come in. What a nice guy he is. We're lucky that we've got him in.”

Most of the players in January camp are younger than Zendejas, but he played with Kellyn Acosta and Walker Zimmerman at FC Dallas in 2015 and Paxton Pomykal and Jesus Ferreira were in its academy program. He said the best part of camp so far has been reconnecting with the players he knew from earlier in his career.

"It's been forever, probably like six years, ever since I made the move to Mexico,” he said. “I kind of lost connection for a bit, but it's good to see the guys again. We're all jokesters.“

Top Photo: John Dorton/ISI Photos

18 comments about "Alejandro Zendejas: 'I'm enjoying the moment'".
  1. R2 Dad, January 25, 2023 at 5:35 a.m.

    "Zendejas started out at Chivas—where he had to renounce his U.S. international ties—but played just six Liga MX games in two seasons and lost touch with U.S. Soccer." Mexico putting players on ice--not to benefit the athletes but to benefit El Tri and handicap opponents. How many caps has J Gonzales? Having said that, USSF doesn't know what to do with a real 10.

  2. Bob Ashpole replied, January 25, 2023 at 6:55 a.m.

    It is a trap for a coach to think of players with great ball skills as "real 10s" instead as field players.

    I wish I had a dollar for everyone I have met who thinks the way to soccer success is fielding a team of the biggest, fastest players with "hustle" that they can find and put one "real 10" in the middle to add some actual ball skills to this dream team. 

    This isn't a poke at Santi and others. They are talking about the USMNT. They are pragmatic. They talk about hustle and attitude, but dream of mad ball skills.

  3. frank schoon replied, January 25, 2023 at 9:41 a.m.

    Guys, check this out. This is a little before your time but to me ,watch how handles a ball, the oozing of confidence, the shielding, how  he handles opponents 1v1 or 1v2...This is Omar Sivori, an Argentinian great. Look at his DNA, then watch Maradona how he handles the ball. His movements with the ball comes right back the foundations of Pickup soccer. Why can't we produce players like that who are confident under pressure....Smart coaches should let their players watch this video as much as possible in order to influence them. Some kid will begin to copy that style ,but as long as we coaches who froth at the mouth and want everything done 100mph and don't realize success is garnered within a two steps, we're continue having what we have now...

  4. Santiago 1314 replied, January 25, 2023 at 12:46 p.m.

    Got your Point Bob,
    My "Theory" is that you could take "Any" particular Team; 
    Swap Jersey's at Half-Time and EXCEPT for (1) STAR Player per Team, you wouldn't notice the Difference... Look at this WC Final Four
    Mbappe for France
    Messi for Argentina
    Modric for Croatia
    ??? For Morrocco
    So, Why Can't USA "Match" This.???
    I think they can... But, Reyna is the Only Player that we have that can "Pull the Rabbit Out of The Hat"
    Ggg just Couldn't/Wouldn't figure a Way to Make-It-Happen; 
    Reyna WAS the Only way to Accomplish what was the Ggg Mantra;
    "To Change the way The World Sees US Soccer".!!!
    Without a "Focal Point" Player, we Got The Same 'Ol, Same 'Ol;
    Which Isn't Too Bad... Very Competitive,,, Lucky Break here or there and it's 2-2 versus Holland, and then PKs 

  5. frank schoon replied, January 25, 2023 at 2:34 p.m.

    I forgot to put in the URL

    Un regalo fenomenal del fútbol: Enrique Omar Sívori - YouTube

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, January 26, 2023 at 1:14 a.m.

    Thanks for the link, Frank. Enjoyed it. I don't think I have seen anybody get kicked in the ankles as much as he did in that clip. I understand why he wore his socks bunched up over his ankles. I saw one sequence where he was kicked 3 times in one second.

    Who will we watch after Messi retires?

  7. frank schoon replied, January 26, 2023 at 9:14 a.m.

    Bob, there is no one to watch after Messi, currently Mbappe couldn't shine Messi's shoes, technically and tactically speaking. Just think, Argentina has produced Di Stefano, Maradona, and Messi, 3world greats and Brazil only one, Pele. Of course Brazil has produced more stars, numbers wise, but as the quality of 'greats', Argentina is tops is tops in that dept.

    Till the end of the mid '80's there were many wingers who played with their socks down. It was the rebel looks and some players didn't like shinguards. Fifa put a stop to it and forced players have their socks up and jersey tucked. Low socks was for  'the' look and not for the ankle protection.

    Omar Sivori, an Argentinian, really controlled the tempo of the game. He never tried to outrun players for speed but beat opponents only on his terms. Just watch the touch he had on the ball....

  8. frank schoon, January 25, 2023 at 9:29 a.m.

    I don't get it....Whatever happened to the country you want to play for....This musical chair garbage is not doing it for me....

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, January 25, 2023 at 10:09 a.m.

    Frank, it isn't so simple for he has strong ties to both countries. It is even tougher for players with parents from different countries. 

    I live in Southern Arizona. Historically this was a Spanish not English Colony. It shows both in the demographics and culture. Soccer is definitely cultural, and in the US there are both Hispanic and English soccer cultures as well as a lot of mixed influences. For years USSF has resisted diversity. And under JK and GB the MNT has leaned away from Hispanic influences. 

    I think DC United demostrated back in the first years of MLS that Arena knew how to use skilled Hispanic players and MLS clubs could compete against South American clubs using talented Hispanic players. After winning international success, MLS slid back into its parity business plan.

  10. frank schoon replied, January 25, 2023 at 11:10 a.m.

    Bob , I never had a problem, considering my backround. And I don't care what my parents, or relativies think or where their loyalty lies, the same reason why they aren't going to choose or influence who I should marry. Or how history , the past, played in all this.. I have my own life to consider. And if those parents have mixed feelings for their own country and are still so confused after living here all these years and having benefitted living here ,than perhaps they should go back. But that won't happen for they know where their bread is buttered at.....  You have a choice and that's what it comes down to, forget all the other externalities... 

  11. Bob Ashpole replied, January 25, 2023 at 12:28 p.m.

    Frank, that last reply made curious. So I did what I never did before for you and the others posting here--I looked up your background. Your background is not what I assumed. I will only say "impressive".   

  12. John DiFiore, January 26, 2023 at 12:05 a.m.

    "...tying him to the USA until he filed a switch of association and FIFA approved the application."

    "...he was called up by Mexico and played for El Tri, why he never filed a switch of associations..."

    I'm confused.. why wasn't he eligible to play for Mexico..?
    And why can't he comment if he did file?

  13. Bob Ashpole replied, January 26, 2023 at 2:30 a.m.

    John, my understanding is that he first played for a US youth team. Then he played for Mexico but he didn't file a switch of association. (My guess is that somehow the Mexican federation missed that he had played prevously for the US.) That made him an inelegible player for Mexico. FIFA fined Mexico and forfeited the Mexico matches he played in. He could still file a switch after playing in this friendly, but otherwise he is a US player.

    His answers to the questions were a very professional deflection. I suspect he learned circumspection the hard way after playing for Mexico.

  14. James Madison, January 26, 2023 at 4:50 p.m.

    I gather Zendejas is "enjoying the moment."  He was not very visible las night until the final 15-20 minutes, but then he sparkled.  What fun it would have been to see him and Cowelll combine.

  15. Santiago 1314 replied, January 27, 2023 at 9:19 p.m.

    Bingo JM... Cowell didn't Combine with Anyone...
    Zendejas was Played, PAST, BY, and OVER, until that last Part,
    Then he Came more Inside, Demanded the Ball with his Abilities, and Presence and really Sparkled.!!!
    He DID Combine and try to Bring the TEAM into Focus...
    Cowell just Ran like a "Turbo Bull" in a China Shop, "Dead Ender", Where Good Plays and Possibilities go to DIE.
    The "WOW" about Cowell and Lack of Appreciation of Zendejas goes to show that the "Audience" has a Lot to Learn still.!!!

  16. Bob Ashpole replied, January 28, 2023 at 1:14 a.m.

    Careful Santi, your appreciation for good soccer is showing through your pragmatism. :)

  17. Sean Guillory, January 27, 2023 at 1:06 p.m.

    And Argentina has won three world cups, Brazil-5; Germany-4...oh and the Dutch who Frankl thinks is the Northstar of football...a big fat ZERO!  Playing sport is about competition and winning matters the most.  Remember when Germany ran Argentina off the pitch in the 1990 World Cup with Maradona and in the 2014 World Cup with Messi...both 1-0 games but it was not even close if you watched the play.  Messi and Maradona are great but don't believe that Germany and Brazil are better football playing nations than Argentina because they actually win more.  Holland???  They are not even in the conversation.

  18. Bob Ashpole replied, January 28, 2023 at 12:55 a.m.

    Sean, not everone shares your values. Some love playing the most, and some love winning more. A person who only loves winning is going to be dissapointed a lot. I don't think love of winning in the long run is enough motivation to explain how the best athletes in the world became the best athletes in the world.

    Frank is not obsessed with Dutch soccer. He is obsessed with the beautiful game. I am going to stop referring to good soccer as Dutch Style soccer. When I google the phrase today, the internet search no longer returns a list of Dutch Style principles of play. So the phrase has lost its meaning. People mistakenly think it refers to a nationality when it actually refers to how one Dutch club, Ajax, played in the 1970s. 

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