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SSFC Spotlight: Alejandro Zendejas could star in next World Cup cycle

The Club América attacker appears to have returned to the fold.

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Puebla v America - Playoffs Torneo Apertura 2022 Liga MX Photo by Jam Media/Getty Images

While the 2022 World Cup has yet to kick off, the United States Men’s National Team may have won a major recruiting victory ahead of the next cycle. Alejandro Zendejas, a former youth international, appears to have switched back over from Mexico. The 24-year-old is enjoying a transformative season with Club América in Liga MX, displaying the talent to boost both programs. His increasingly influential performances indicate that he could be a key figure moving forward.

Born in Juárez and raised in El Paso, Zendejas played with Cobras El Paso and Texas Fire and joined the FC Dallas Academy in 2012 after spending time at a local affiliate. Following a spell at the now-defunct Bradenton Residency where he roomed with Christian Pulisic for three years, the “creative, complete player” who “can pass very well” signed a Homegrown contract in 2014 and appeared a few times for the reserve team. The following year included ten combined matches in Major League Soccer and the U.S. Open Cup.

In the summer of 2016, Zendejas made a surprise move to Club Deportivo Guadalajara, sold for a reported $500,000 transfer fee. “He spoke to us one day, telling us, ‘They want me at Chivas and I want to go to Chivas,” his father told ESPN. “He didn’t give us much of a chance to persuade him to stay in MLS. He said, ‘It’s Chivas, it’s Mexico, I want to try something different’. The agent told us about him and in two days we had to sign the contract and say yes. In three days, he flew from Dallas to Guadalajara, it was practically fast.”

The signing generated some media attention, with RÉCORD claiming his arrival “betrayed the club’s ideology.” Chivas has a history of only using Mexican players, likely indicating that the American youth international would abstain from future call-ups with the United States. He made ten total appearances as the club claimed the Clausura and Copa MX, featuring heavily in the group stage of the latter competition.

The next season, Zendejas went on loan to now-defunct Zacatepec in the second division. He enjoyed a run of success, scoring his first professional goal. His year ended with five finishes in 40 appearances, an extended run of form that provided a boost. However, ESPN reported that the dual-national had yet to “apply for his one-time switch to be able to play for Mexico.”

Upon returning to Guadalajara, Zendejas struggled to find consistent playing time, adjusting from a more physical American style to the more technical Liga MX. The majority of appearances came in the Copa MX, although his registration for the 2018 Club World Cup as an American caused a bit of a stir in the media. He suffered a left knee injury in October of 2019 that required an “anterior cruciate ligament-plasty” and kept him on the sidelines for several months, lasting until the COVID-19 pandemic forced a cancellation of the remaining schedule.

Moving on a free loan that reportedly included a split sell-on fee, Zendejas joined Club Necaxa. In his first season, he scored five goals in 32 appearances and enjoyed an extended run in the starting lineup. In year two, his production increased, contributing six goals in 18 appearances during the Apertura. Enjoying regular senior-team minutes for the first time in his career, his performances attracted attention from a few sides in Liga MX, including Tijuana and Toluca.

At the beginning of 2022, Zendejas moved to Club América for a rumored fee of around 3.5 to 5 million dollars, signed in order to boost the attack. After going through a scoreless stretch, he caught fire in March, finding the back of the net four times in five fixtures. The dual-national finished the season with six goals, enjoying the high-pressure environment in which “every game is like a final.” Enjoying the best football of his career and improving on the field, Mexican media began talking him up as a potential call-up for the 2022 World Cup.

His form only improved as he began this current season in the starting lineup, contributing six goals and two assists in 19 matches. Club América claimed the Torneo Apertura regular season but fell in the semifinals of the Liguilla playoff stage. “He seems like a great player to me and he is coming from less to more,” said sporting director Santiago Baños. “He is 24 years old, he still has a great future, and we are happy to have him.”

The talented attacker has continued to find himself at a tug-of-war between two rival nations, but a victor may have finally emerged to secure his international future. Zendejas was a fixture with the United States program at the youth level, playing every minute at the 2015 U-17 World Cup, a run that stalled in the group stage. After joining Chivas, he decided to forego any future appearances, instead presumably committing his future to Mexico. After a few youth call-ups with El Tri, including scoring for the Olympic team during the run up to the Tokyo Games, his senior international debut came in October of 2021, appearing in a 3-2 friendly loss to Ecuador. The 24-year-old earned a second cap in April against Guatemala.

Recent events regarding the “one-time switch” have called his international future into question and led to scrutiny from FIFA, despite being rostered for those matches against Ecuador and Guatemala. He was set to appear for El Tri in a friendly against Paraguay, but reportedly “a bureaucratic problem prevented him from doing so” and the player “refused to sign a document.” Mexico’s Gerardo “Tata” Martino referred to the refusal to commit as “almost like extortion,” which prompted a fierce rebuke from Club América head coach Fernando Ortiz.

The USMNT may have finally won the waiting game. In a recent press conference, Gregg Berhalter stated that Zendejas is on his radar and the two have shared a few phone calls with the intention of a call-up after the World Cup. His fluid playing style and defensive effort would make him an ideal fit for the manager’s tactical demands.

The left-footed Zendejas lines up as an inverted winger or a right attacking midfielder, operating as a fast and creative presence with an electric first touch. He is one of Liga MX’s better creators and scores quite regularly, finding himself on the end of several forays into the final third and claiming crosses despite standing 5’6”. The 24-year-old also puts in plenty of valuable defensive work, contributing pressing, interceptions, aerial wins, and tackles. His ability to latch onto balls in the final third and either find a teammate or launch a quick shot challenges opponents, particularly when cutting inside.

In addition to being talented, observers have praised his dedication to the craft. “The truth is that off the pitch, I think he has everything to be a national team player,” said former Chivas president José Luis Higuera. “He is fast, explosive; he overflows very well, with very good dribbling, very good dribbling, very good cross. On the pitch, Alejandro is unbalanced, he always goes forward; now he has the versatility to be able to be behind and have very good back and forth on the flank… He is a very committed and very professional player; very devoted to his profession, so he has a complete American background. He gives total priority to his diet, rest and physical training... He is very disciplined, with a lot of sports and food discipline.”

While currently stocked with attacking talent, the USMNT could always use another option to challenge for playing time. After seven years as a professional, Zendejas is hitting his stride with Club América and becoming an impact player. Whatever finish is achieved in Qatar, supporters can optimistically look ahead to the next cycle with a player pool that is already potentially beginning to reload.