Former USMNT prospect Alejandro Zendejas faces controversy over Mexico eligibility

Club América winger Alejandro Zendejas, a dual national who represented the United States at the 2015 U-17 World Cup and Mexico in two friendlies over the past two years, is at the center of a firestorm regarding his international eligibility.

According to FIFA rules, however, the issue should be relatively clear: Zendejas required a one-time switch from the United States in order to be eligible for Mexico. And it is not yet clear if he did.

The 24-year-old Zendejas has elevated his performances this season for América after joining the club from Necaxa in January. His name has trended in Mexico as El Tri prepares for the World Cup in Qatar this November. After winger Jesús “Tecatito” Corona suffered a broken fibula, Zendejas became an alternative for Mexico head coach Tata Martino to consider.

Zendejas plays in Corona’s wide attacking role and has scored three goals in 10 matches to start the year. He made his senior national team debut under Martino on October 27 of last year and also played for Mexico in a friendly against Guatemala on April 27 of this year.

Zendejas, however, was not on the roster that was released for Mexico’s upcoming friendly versus Paraguay on August 31 in Atlanta. It was a surprising exclusion considering his form in Liga MX.

His absence led to a report in Mexico that the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) had asked Zendejas to sign a document “renouncing” his eligibility for the United States and that Zendejas declined to do so. The report stood out in part because Zendejas had already played twice before for Mexico in friendlies. An FMF representative told The Athletic they had no knowledge of the reasons for Zendejas’ omission. The representative did not immediately respond when asked to confirm whether Zendejas had been presented with such a document.

No switch to Mexico was ever publicly announced by the federation. FIFA did not immediately respond regarding confirmation on Zendejas’ international eligibility.

But Zendejas would not have been eligible to play in those friendlies without applying to FIFA for a “one-time switch” of federations. According to the FIFA statutes on “the rules governing eligibility to play for representative teams,” a player “who has already participated in a match (either in full or in part) in an official competition of any category or any type of football for one association may not play an international match for a representative team of another association.”

Zendejas played three full games for the U.S. at the U-17 World Cup in 2015. As such, he was locked in with the U.S. pending an application to switch federations. (That U.S. U-17 team included stars Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams, and American World Cup hopefuls Haji Wright, Luca de la Torre and Brandon Vazquez.)

The situation is similar to that of U.S. midfielder Malik Tillman, who had to file for a one-time switch from the German federation after appearing for both the German under-17 and under-21 teams in Euro championships and qualifiers. Tillman was approved for his one-time switch and thus appeared for the U.S. in a friendly against Morocco in June, as well as a CONCACAF Nations League game.

If Zendejas played in those friendlies without applying for a one-time switch it would have been a violation of FIFA rules. And if Zendejas did apply for a one-time switch in order to play in those friendlies, he would no longer be eligible to play for the U.S. In the absence of that one-time switch, Zendejas would maintain eligibility for either the U.S. or Mexico.

On Thursday, TUDN reporter Gibran Araige reported that Zendejas was not convinced that he would be included on Mexico’s final World Cup roster.

Another report out of Mexico claimed there was an agreement between the two federations that a player would only play for one of the two rival countries once he has committed. That report is false, according to a USSF spokesperson. It’s also clearly untrue based on recent history, as players like Efrain Alvarez, Julian Araujo and David Ochoa have spent time or played for both federations.

(Photo: Nathan Ray Seebeck / USA TODAY Sports)

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