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The curious case of Alejandro Zendejas

Is he no longer eligible for the USMNT? Or did Mexico commit a huge mistake in playing him?

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Mazatlan FC v America - Torneo Apertura 2022 Liga MX Photo by Sergio Mejia/Getty Images

Last week, controversy swirled around Club América winger Alejandro Zendejas and his international eligibility, and it began due to his omission from a roster instead of his inclusion. Zendejas, a dual national who has represented the United States at the youth international level and Mexico in two senior international friendlies, was inadvertently thrown into the spotlight when he was surprisingly excluded from Mexico’s roster for Wednesday’s friendly against Paraguay.

The 24-year-old midfielder who was born in Juarez but grew up in El Paso has been in form for Club América, scoring 3 goals in 10 appearances so far in the Liga MX Apertura season. With word of Mexican winger Jesus “Tecatito” Corona fracturing his fibula, which will cause him to miss the World Cup, many in El Tri circles included Zendejas as a possible replacement on the eventual World Cup roster.

However, when he was excluded from the roster, a strange report came out that stated that Zendejas was not included on Tata Martino’s roster for the Paraguay match because the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) had required Zendejas to sign a document renouncing his USMNT eligibility and that Zendejas refused to do it. The reports also rumored that Zendejas had already signed a similar agreement when he played for Chivas, which is notorious for only signing Mexican internationals, and that his failure to sign another one meant the FMF would not let him represent El Tri.

This is where the curious case of Alejandro Zendejas really takes off. Zendejas began his international career at the youth level with the USMNT U-15s. He then represented the United States at the 2015 U-17 World Cup, making 3 appearances during that tournament. That made it where he was provisionally cap-tied to the United States program. Since he is over the age of 21, any senior international cap with the United States would make him permanently cap-tied to the USMNT.

To be eligible to play for Mexico, even in a friendly, he would have to file a one-time switch with FIFA. That one-time switch would then mean he would represent Mexico moving forward and could not switch back to play for the USMNT.

However, Alejandro Zendejas was called up to Mexico’s senior national team by Tata Martino and made his debut for the team as a substitute in a October 2021 friendly against Ecuador. He also started a friendly against Guatemala back in April. Most fans assumed that with his call-up to Mexico that his one-time switch had been completed. However, the FMF never publicly announced one.

There was another report that claimed that an agreement existed between U.S. Soccer and the FMF that once a player had committed to one program over the other, that player would only play for that program and the other federation would back off.

However, ESPN’s Herculez Gomez, a former USMNT player, said that no such agreement exists.

You’ve also seen players who are eligible for both nations bounce back and forth between the 2 programs in an effort to decide to which they will commit their playing future. Jonathan Gonzalez, Efrain Alvarez, Julian Araujo, David Ochoa, and Jonathan Gomez are some of the recent examples of players who have tested both the USMNT and El Tri before making a commitment.

Still, Zendejas could not play for Mexico in those friendlies until that one-time switch was applied for and approved. If he didn’t file that one-time switch, then he was not eligible to appear for Mexico in those 2 friendlies and Mexico would be in violation of FIFA rules. He would also still be eligible to play for either the United States or Mexico, the latter of course requiring the switch to be filed. However, if there was a one-time switch filed and approved, then Zendejas’ USMNT eligibility is gone, and he can only represent Mexico.

In either of those cases, any document that the FMF would pressure a player to sign renouncing their USMNT eligibility wouldn’t be relevant.

FIFA has stated that they have opened an investigation into Alejandro Zendejas’ eligibility. If they determine that Mexico used him in a friendly knowing he was ineligible, they could impose heavy sanctions. In 1988, Mexico was involved in another scandal involving ineligible players on the youth level, known as the Cachirules scandal. After using 4 overage players on a U-20 team, FIFA banned Mexican youth and senior national teams from all international competition for 2 years, which included the 1990 World Cup.

If Mexico is found to have knowingly used Zendejas when he was ineligible to play for the team, it is unlikely that FIFA would take the drastic step of banning them from the 2022 World Cup, which is less than 3 months away. However, it makes this situation the ever more confusing in that Alejandro Zendejas’ omission from a roster for a match that occurs outside a FIFA window has led to this investigation.

Hit the comments to discuss your thoughts on Alejandro Zendejas and whether you think he should be eligible for the USMNT.