CARSON, Calif. – It’s official: “Panchito” is back.
After two years in Mexico, former Chivas USA fan favorite Francisco “Panchito” Mendoza has returned to the Home Depot Center for the 2011 MLS preseason. The midfielder joins the Goats from Mexican Liga de Ascenso side Indios de Ciudad Juárez.
“I’m really happy to be back,” Mendoza told MLSsoccer.com after practice on Saturday. “I’m ready to train hard and earn my spot. Nothing is set yet; I’m here to earn my place just like everyone else. I want to show our coach that I have what it takes to be on this roster."
Mendoza is something of a legend at Chivas USA. The Jalisco, Mexico, native joined the Red-and-White in their inaugural 2005 season and formed a crucial part of the squad for the next four years. He provided boundless energy from the midfield flanks and was integral in helping the Goats to three consecutive playoff appearances (2006 to '08).
The 25-year-old left the team after the 2008 season for a dream transfer to Mexican side Chivas de Guadalajara. The next two years saw him loaned to Chiapas and Tijuana before he finally landed at Indios last season.
“Things didn’t go exactly how I planned them to,” Mendoza admitted of his time in Mexico. “But it was an incredible experience to be with Chivas de Guadalajara – one of the best teams in Mexico. It was a great learning experience for me, both as a person and as a player. I’m going to try and put that experience to good use now that I’m back training here.”
[inline_node:326976]Mendoza’s presence will likely be welcome for a squad that struggled to score goals last year. The hard-working midfielder could help boost the Goats’ offensive threat in 2011 and help the team forget about its second-worst-in-MLS tally of 31 goals scored in 2010.
“I’ve watched him from a distance for years,” said new Chivas USA head coach Robin Fraser. “I thought certainly in his last couple of years, he was a very effective player for this team. I was actually surprised when he was gone. The opportunity to get him back arose and I think he’s going to be a good addition to us.”
Mendoza is joined by a number of new faces at Chivas USA this preseason. Under the guidance of debutante Fraser, the team is looking to get back to winning ways after a 2010 campaign that saw it finish in last place in MLS’ Western Conference.
“There are a lot of new faces here, all of whom have a lot of talent,” Mendoza said. “I hope this preseason helps us all to get to know each other and, little by little, we begin to find some chemistry both on and off the field.”
The Goats’ March 19 season opener against Sporting Kansas City is still a long way off, but Mendoza and the rest of Chivas USA are already focused on starting the year off with a victory. And as Major League Soccer continues to grow, earning a postseason spot becomes harder and harder.
“I know things didn’t go very well for Chivas last year, but we’re looking to turn that around,” Mendoza said. “The league is growing and growing, and I think that it grew immensely during the years that I was in Mexico. It continues to produce high-level players and that speaks well of the level of competition in this league.”
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