Zendejas in USMNT camp after Mexico tenure; future unclear
CARSON, Calif. (AP) — Alejandro Zendejas insists he isn’t thinking about his future beyond his first training camp with the senior U.S. national team this week.
Zendejas won’t stop anyone from speculating about the talented forward’s long-term international home.
“I’m enjoying the moment, taking the opportunity I have this week,” Zendejas said. “I have my mind focused on tomorrow’s game.”
Zendejas repeatedly dodged and deflected questions Tuesday about both the future and the recent past that have put him in the middle of a spirited two-nation competition for his services.
One week after Mexico was ordered by FIFA to forfeit the two matches in which Zendejas has appeared for El Tri because his switch from the U.S. youth system was never approved, Zendejas could make his senior U.S. debut Wednesday night at BMO Stadium near downtown Los Angeles in a friendly against Serbia.
While his day job at Club América is going splendidly, the 24-year-old Zendejas’ international future is extremely murky beyond this week. Zendejas indicated he still hasn’t made a decision whether to represent the U.S. or Mexico, although he still has the option to do either.
“To be honest, I don’t really like to pay much attention to what’s going on outside of the soccer standpoint, because that’s my job,” Zendejas said. “I’m just focused on what I can do on the field, how I can help the team the best way possible.”
Zendejas deflected again when asked whether he even wants to play for the U.S. in additional matches or the CONCACAF Gold Cup later this year.
“I hope we get that win (Wednesday), and on a personal level, I hope it’s a great game for me,” Zendejas said. “I’ll probably focus on the future once we get to that standpoint.”
While his U.S. teammates were reporting for their first practice of the January camp last Saturday, Zendejas was busy scoring a sensational goal for América against Puebla. Zendejas will return to América after Wednesday’s friendly to prepare for his club team’s next game Saturday.
Until then, Zendejas is enjoying the chance to “reconnect with the guys,” he said.
“It’s been forever, probably like six years, ever since I made the move to Mexico,” he added. “Kind of lost connection for a bit, but it’s good to see the guys again. We’re all jokesters.”
Zendejas’ decision on his future could depend on a multitude of factors related to finances, comfort and the long-term future. Neither El Tri nor the U.S. currently has a permanent head coach, and the new bosses’ attitude toward Zendejas’ talents could be an important factor.
The U.S. team is in flux with interim coach Anthony Hudson in charge amid the absence of Gregg Berhalter, whose contract expired at the end of last year. U.S. Soccer is conducting an investigation of Berhalter related to a sensational dispute involving the family of U.S. player Gio Reyna.
“To be honest, I didn’t think there was a chance we were going to get (Zendejas for this camp),” Hudson said. “The club were amazing, really positive, very supportive of him coming in. ... I was shocked. Alejandro was also excited to come in. What a nice guy he is. We’re really lucky that we’ve got him.”
Both nations are still actively recruiting Zendejas, who grew up in El Paso. He also spent nearly two years with FC Dallas before moving in 2016 to Chivas, a transition that synced with his move from the U.S. to Mexico as an international prospect. Zendejas got minimal playing time at Chivas and eventually went to Nexaca on a free transfer in 2020.
“When I made my move to Nexaca, I got more playing time,” Zendejas said. “I guess you could say I got back on the radar, and now that I made this move to Club América, that helped me out a little bit.”
Two young U.S. natives with Mexican parents have recently gone the other way in this perennial tug-of-war for North America’s top talents.
California-born goalkeeper David Ochoa played for the U.S. at multiple youth levels as recently as March 2021. He switched allegiance to his parents’ native Mexico later that year, although he hasn’t yet appeared in a match for El Tri.
Julián Araujo, a California-born defender, made his U.S. senior team debut in December 2020 before switching to Mexico in late 2021. The 21-year-old LA Galaxy player has appeared in three matches for El Tri.
Araujo is the third player to appear for both Mexico and the U.S., joining Martín Vásquez and Edgar Castillo.
Other players in the U.S. camp faced similar decisions, including goalkeeper Gaga Slonina, the American-born son of Polish immigrants who raised their family in Chicagoland.
“It was a really difficult choice,” said the 18-year-old Slonina, who signed with Chelsea last August. “I think it’s sort of like a way of rewarding. I want to win trophies with this country. I want to win medals with this country, and give the country what it deserves for the hard work we put in. I have Polish roots, but my heart was American.”
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