While Alejandro Zendejas won’t be making the trip from Mexico City this time, dual-national intrigue will still simmer around the US men’s national team’s Allstate Continental Clásico match vs. bitter rivals Mexico next week.
Brandon Vazquez’s inclusion in the US roster released on Wednesday means the FC Cincinnati striker could face his parents’ homeland – a nation he played for at youth levels and remains eligible to represent despite making his USMNT debut, and scoring, in January – in Glendale, Arizona in a week’s time.
For interim head coach Anthony Hudson, the magnitude of the matchup carries both risk and reward.
“Brandon is someone who's had to be patient for his opportunity. So I'm desperate for him to do well,” Hudson told reporters on Wednesday. “I just want him to come in and not really get caught up in the occasion. I think sometimes you can – it’s a USA-Mexico game, you want to prove so much, and I think we've seen in the past when you really focus on all of that, for some players, it's counterproductive.
“The emotion of the game is going to take care of itself. I just want Brandon to come in and don't put any pressure on himself and just do what he's good at. He's an absolute handful in the box. His movement’s good in the box. If you give him the right service and delivery, he's a really good finisher. We just want him to focus on that.”
Born in Chula Vista, California to Chivas-supporting parents from Guadalajara, Vazquez grew up in a Spanish-speaking household and crossed the border to play for Club Tijuana in his academy days. He spent about a year with Mexico’s Under-17 national team, but switched to the US when his El Tri coaches told him he wouldn’t make their 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup squad. More recently, the 24-year-old has said he’s yet to hear from anyone at the Mexican federation since last year’s breakout 18g/8a campaign with Cincy.
Though he’ll face ample competition from Jesús Ferreira and early MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi leader Jordan Morris, Vazquez looks like a real contender to earn minutes at the USMNT’s No. 9 spot. A bright performance would further amplify the drama around his international allegiance, as it has for other Mexican-Americans in his situation like Zendejas, Ricardo Pepi, Julián Araujo and Efra Álvarez.
“I know we've had lots of these situations in the past,” said Hudson. “They're really unique situations because you’re a dual national. For some players that works, and you get motivation from it. But I think for Brandon, we just want him to come in and just enjoy playing his game. We believe in him. He's a very good striker. We want him to come in and do what he's good at.”
Zendejas stays with Club América
The interim boss revealed that Zendejas, another January debutant who subsequently committed to the USMNT over El Tri last month, was not released by Club América for next Wednesday’s affair at State Farm Stadium.
Hudson made clear, however, that he still felt indebted to Las Aguilas for releasing the FC Dallas product for his first camp, noting that Zendejas’ outlook was complicated in any case by the broken nose he just suffered in Liga MX action vs. CF Monterrey.
“He obviously had his injury; the club politely declined, and that's well within their right to do that,” said Hudson. “We were disappointed, because we would have loved to have had him here. I know he was desperate to come, he’s such a great guy. He's desperate to be involved.
“The fact that we're in this position, talking the way we are to Alejandro and have built this relationship with Alejandro, and the fact that we're here is because the club have been so good with us. They didn't need to let him come in January, and they've been really, really supportive. So we have no issues with that. We accept it. We hope that we can have that discussion in the summer with the Nations League and the Gold Cup.”
A chance to play for Sergiño Dest
Another dual-national recruit who will unexpectedly be involved in the Continental Clasico: Sergiño Dest. The skillful fullback has fallen well out of favor at AC Milan – not appearing in a match for the Rossoneri since Jan. 24 – and so has been given a chance at a runout by the Serie A club (where he’s on loan from FC Barcelona).
“With the way we select the next two or three squads, there's going to be all these unique situations with players, and Sergino, first of all, we're so grateful to the club for allowing him to come to this game and play against Mexico,” he said.
“He was great in the World Cup. We love having him around the team. And not only that, he wants to come and he wants to play in the game. ... So there's all these unique one-off situations where, with relationships, with conversations, we're able to get players outside of a window like this.”