GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Miami native Alejandro Meleán has always wanted to play in Major League Soccer. It’s just that after finishing college, there was very little interest from clubs.
Fast-forward three years and things have changed. When the now-Bolivian international says he would be “very interested” in moving back north, teams may well sit up and take notice, especially with his contract with Oriente Petrolero running out in May.
“When I graduated from Holy Cross, I started out not even being able to get a tryout for a MLS team,” the 25-year-old midfielder (above, in green) told MLSsoccer.com recently from Bolivia. “Now I find myself playing in one of the top Bolivian teams, playing an international cup every year and playing for Bolivia.”
The midfielder admits he has to pinch himself to believe it is all true, but it is no coincidence. Meleán has been improving as a player in Bolivia and is in some of the best form of his life at the start of 2013, scoring three goals this season while playing in a more offensive role along both flanks and helping his club to second place in the league.
For those that don’t know his story, Meleán took off to his parents’ native Bolivia after college, looking for a break with a first division team. In January 2010, minnows La Paz gave him that chance and he hasn’t looked back since, moving to Oriente Petrolero after one season and quickly nailing down a starting spot there.
“El Psicólogo,” or “The Psychologist,” as he is known to teammates due to his college degree, is also now a regular in the Bolivian national team squad. He made his World Cup qualifying debut back in October in his team’s 4-1 demolition of Uruguay, cap-tying him to the South American country.
“It was an amazing feeling to finally debut with my national team, and even more exciting to play against a team like Uruguay, who has recently been doing so well,” he said.
Meleán had previously said he would play for whichever national team called him up first and Bolivia moved fast. Nevertheless, he’s not turning his back on US soccer and puts a large part of his development down to his formation up north.
“I do believe I am a product of American soccer, even though I would train every summer in Bolivia in the Tahuichi, a well-known soccer academy,” stressed Meleán. “I believe that US soccer has come a very long way and it will continue to grow not just in popularity, but also in the level of play.”
Next month, Meleán is likely to feature against two global icons in Lionel Messi and Radamel Falcao when La Verde take on Argentina and Colombia in the next round of qualification matches for Brazil 2014. Needless to say, he is looking forward to pitting his wits against the star names.
“It is a challenge that all players welcome because you have the opportunity to get a win against great players and great teams,” he said. “It is also a great chance to show what you're made of.”
Meleán has been named into the 26-man squad that will meet on March 11 in preparation for the vital matches, with Bolivia four points off fourth-place Venezuela in South American qualifying.
If MLS coaches aren’t already tuning in, those games may just be a showcase for Meleán to demonstrate exactly what he could bring to the league. With the player likely to leave Bolivia in the near future, his versatility in both midfield and defense may just appeal to one or two clubs still with holes in their squads.
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.