Back in 2015, future World Cup standouts Tyler Adams and Christian Pulisic headlined the United States’ under-17 national team. But for then U-17 coach Richie Williams, Alejandro Zendejas’ contribution that U.S. squad — one that included two other members of the U.S. roster at last year’s World Cup in Qatar — was every bit as important.
“When you talk about personalities, he was one of the greatest guys within that group,” Williams told FOX Sports of Zendejas, the 24-year-old Mexican-American winger who is expected to make his senior debut for the USMNT in Wednesday’s 2023-opening friendly match in Los Angeles against Serbia (10 p.m. ET). “He’s an exceptional person.”
With club commitments preventing Adams, Pulisic and the rest of the Europe-based regulars available for Wednesday’s exhibition or another on Saturday versus Colombia, interim U.S. coach Anthony Hudson selected a roster stocked mostly with out-of-season MLS players. The list includes five players who went to Qatar, plus prospects like Gaga Slonina and Paxten Aaronson who have yet to break thorough with their European clubs.
Still, Zendejas is perhaps the most intriguing call-up of all. Mexican powerhouse Club America surprisingly agreed to release Zendejas for the Serbia game — a welcome development for a player who has a legitimate chance of sticking when the full-strength national team reconvenes in March for CONCACAF Nations League matches with Grenada and El Salvador.
If he wants to, that is.
Zendejas has already played twice for Mexico’s senior team, games FIFA later said he shouldn’t have participated in because he’d represented the U.S. at the U-17 World Cup. Zendejas could still play for El Tri after Wednesday’s match, though he’d need to petition FIFA for a one-time switch of allegiance. However, if he suits up for the U.S. in the CONCACAF Nations League in March, he’d be permanently tied to the USMNT. Zendejas stopped short of committing to either country when speaking to reporters on Tuesday, but having him involved this month can’t hurt.
“I’ll probably focus on the future once we get to that standpoint,” Zendejas said when asked by FOX Sports if he’d accept an invitation for the Nations League or the Gold Cup this summer.
Landing Zendejas for good would be a coup. Already an established starter with Liga MX’s most prestigious club, he has 13 goals in 40 appearances for Las Águilas, including this beauty last Saturday against Puebla:
“Alex is an absolute baller,” said U.S. forward Brandon Vázquez, another member of that 2015 U-17 squad. “He’s so shifty. His velocity and speed are great, and he’s amazing on the ball.”
And as his stats and that video prove, Zendejas can also score. That’s no small thing for a program that struggled mightily to finish in Qatar. The Americans can never have enough goal threats. For that reason, Zendejas had been on the U.S. staff’s radar since before the World Cup, with then-coach Gregg Berhalter beginning the recruiting process last year.
“It’s been great to see him,” Hudson said of Zendejas, who will return to Club America after Wednesday’s match. “I think the players have really enjoyed him being here, having him around the camp.
They’ve been impressed by his skill set, too. “He’s really dynamic left-footed player,” Aaronson said. “When he picks the ball up he always looks like he’s going to create something special.
Should he eventually choose the U.S., Zendejas would become the latest dual citizen to pick the U.S. over another country since 2018. Four — Sergiño Dest, Antonee Robinson, Yunus Musah and Jesús Ferreira — started the Americans’ round of 16 loss to the Netherlands at the 2022 World Cup. Zendejas would also become the second coveted Mexican-American attacker to rebuff El Tri‘s advances in a little more than a year, joining fellow El Paso, Texas native Ricardo Pepi. Vázquez, forward Cade Cowell and fullback Jonathan Gomez are other players in camp that can still suit up for either country.
The opportunity to see Zendejas and other blue-chip youngsters this month has been a welcome distraction for a program still reeling from the scandal involving Berhalter and the parents of winger Gio Reyna. Hudson, one of Berhalter’s assistants in Qatar, took over the team until the independent investigation into the matter is complete. Hudson admitted that the situation has weighed on the senior players in particular. He addressed the issue with the squad before camp started.
“I think there’s a sense of sadness, because everyone put so much into [the World Cup],” Hudson said Tuesday. “It’s sadness because all the attention is gone away from all the good work there, and has been shifted in another direction.
The mood started to changed when training began. “You come into camp, and it’s like the outside world kind of disappears for a 10-12 days,” Hudson added.
Now that the first match of the 2026 World Cup cycle is here, the emphasis is on the future. And the present.
“I’m just trying to enjoy the moment, trying to take advantage of this opportunity,” said Zendejas, who revealed that before reporting he spoke to Pulisic, who wished him well this week.
“It’s fun to reconnect with a bunch of players that I used to play with. We kind of lost connection for a bit, but it’s good to see the guys again.”
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