When Alex Mendoza signed with the Philadelphia Union two weeks ago, he moved more than 2,500 miles away from his last club.
He also came home.
In one of the more interesting acquisitions of the offseason, Mendoza left the popular Mexican club Pumas UNAM to play in MLS, right near where he grew up in Harrisburg, Pa.
Union manager John Hackworth said that Mendoza, a 22-year-old midfielder, was discovered by a scout in Mexico and that the local angle made him even more appealing.
“Here’s a kid that grows up in Harrisburg and has a lot of ties to our soccer community,” Hackworth said. “And he goes out and makes it in the world of soccer, which is extremely hard, especially in a foreign country. That was the most intriguing part for us, for sure.”
How did Mendoza end up in Mexico in the first place? The dual United States and Mexican citizen said it was always something he wanted to do because his dad was from Mexico and he often vacationed there.
“It was incredible the things I saw there,” he said. “In Mexico, I always loved to see how people treated the sport. Down there, there’s no other sport besides soccer.”
Mendoza said the option to play in Mexico presented itself when one of the coaches on the Pumas reserve team offered him a tryout while he was still a teenager living in Central Pennsylvania.
The Harrisburg City Islanders Academy product joined the Mexico City-based team in February of 2009 and, according to the Union, played for all levels of the club’s system over the past three years.
“It was a lot to adjust to,” Mendoza said. “The biggest was the language because I didn’t know Spanish when I left. It was a great experience for me. I loved my time there but I think it was time for me to get back here to the States.”
Without having to worry about any language barrier this time, Mendoza said his new Union teammates have been a lot more “receiving” toward him than when he first got to Mexico. That should only help him as he learns about a new league and tries to transition from a defensive midfielder into an attacking central midfielder, where he said Hackworth prefers him to play.
One more thing that will aid his transition? His family and friends now live within two hours of his home stadium.
“It’s a lot closer than Mexico,” he quipped.
In fact, it's practically home.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.