CARSON, Calif. - Amidst all the losing and the bitterness associated with that, at least one player has given Chivas USA reason to remain optimistic.
Just 20 years old but whose face barely hints at that, Francisco Mendoza has made his presence for the Red-and-White. From the moment he stepped onto the pitch, Mendoza has played with the skills of a seasoned veteran.
Mendoza is quickly becoming one of the club's building blocks for next season and beyond.
"He's a guy we've been extremely happy about," Chivas USA sporting director Thomas Rongen said. "When young players step up and perform well, that's great because they have many, many years left. Continuity is important for any franchise. Players that are young and could be the future and the spine and backbone for this team, that's very encouraging to see."
From the beginning, "Pancho" shined. Mendoza debuted in the season opener against D.C. United, filling in for an injured Francisco Gomez. In the 2-0 loss, he was one of the club's lone bright spots and has continued to impress.
The speedy left-sided midfielder is fifth on the team in minutes played, having racked up 1,788 minutes for the expansion side. Along the way, he's won the respect of his teammates.
"He's so skillful. He's probably the most skillful out of all the guys they brought from Mexico," Chivas USA forward Antonio Martinez said. "He's a joy to watch. He can dribble through anyone in this league."
It's not just his teammates that have taken notice. Rongen, who put Mendoza in the same class as rookie goalkeeper Brad Guzan, fielded and entertained offers for Mendoza's services from two Mexican sides.
"There were some serious talks," Rongen said. "We just wanted to see what Pancho was potentially worth on the market. It's always good to know what teams are willing to offer for your players. We've always wanted to keep him but that's part of the game, just trying to see what's out there."
Talks with Chiapas and Veracruz, however, ultimately went nowhere and the chance for Mendoza to return to Mexico closed, for now.
"Nothing happened there and I don't know why," Mendoza said. "Maybe it had something to do with the differences in the leagues, I don't know. I only know that they did not let me go."
So is Mendoza longing for a return to his homeland?
"Honestly, I'm happy here with this team," Mendoza said. "Of course, I'd like to return to Mexico and play in the First Division with Chivas or if it was another team, that would be good too. Right now, I'm happy with this club and this group of players."
Currently, Mendoza's situation seems ideal. He's 20 and already a regular starter. The club is set on building with young talent and he's caught attention from foreign clubs. Mendoza said he owes his steady rise amongst the Chivas ranks to some elbow grease.
"I've just continued to work hard and take advantage of the opportunities that Hans and Thomas, during his time, gave me," Mendoza said. "I think Hans helped me gain some consistency that has helped me maintain my level of play."
In the beginning, Mendoza was not slated to play as much as he has, Rongen said, but in the end, it was too difficult not to.
"He didn't figure that he would be a great contributor," Rongen said. "He proved day in and day out on the practice field that he belongs and has been one of our better performers this year."
Standing at 5-foot-5 and weighing a slight 125 pounds, Mendoza would seem to be a victim of some harsh play. That is not the case at all, however.
"He's so little and so skinny but he's a tough guy too," Martinez said. "You would think he would be a big guy the way he plays defense. He's the total package in my opinion."
Mendoza has a habit of making his presence. During his time with a youth team in his hometown of El Salto, Jalisco, he would often score against Chivas youth teams. He scored so many goals that eventually Chivas offered him a tryout. Eventually, he was called up to Mexico's under-17 squad in the country's failed bid for a spot in the 2001 FIFA U-17 World Championship.
He debuted with Chivas de Guadalajara in 2001 at the age of 16 when he played in a Copa Mercosur match. A year ago, Mendoza scored four goals in 11 games with Chivas La Piedad (second division).
All that experience has helped Mendoza become the gifted future star that he is today.
"Panchito has some great technical abilities and has become a crowd favorite and is very unassuming in the locker room," Rongen said. "He's a great pro and a good teammate. I think due to his age as well that he can only get better. Clearly he's a guy we want to keep for the future."
Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.