Mendoza returns to Chivas USA a changed man

"Panchito": Two years spent in Mexican soccer have matured me

CARSON, Calif. – When Francisco Mendoza left Chivas USA in 2008 to tread the waters of Mexican soccer, he did so with the dream of being a key figure for Chivas de Guadalajara, the club through which ranks he rose before his arrival to MLS and the team still holds the rights to his contract.

But things didn’t go as expected for “Panchito.” He wasn’t able to break through with El Rebaño Sagrado and went from the first team to the reserves before making his way to Jaguares de Chiapas, followed by stints with second-division sides Club Tijuana and Indios de Ciudad Juárez.

Two years later, the now-25-year-old returns to Chivas USA a changed man. Short, neatly combed hair replaces the wild mane that blurred around the Goats’ midfield for four seasons, and the trials endured have changed his outlook.

“In the two years that I was in Mexico, I learned many things both on and off the field,” said Mendoza in a press conference ahead of Chivas USA’s season opener against Sporting Kansas City. “Personally, I have returned as a much more mature person.”

The only thing that hasn’t changed, but that has actually perhaps grown stronger, is his commitment, a quality that endeared the diminutive Mexican to the Red-and-White followers.

“I’m going to give it my all like I’ve always done,” he said. "I have always given 100 percent."

While Mendoza has tweaked a couple of things, his former club has gone through a serious remodel (“It’s a completely different team [from when I left],” he noted).

During the offseason, Chivas USA hired Robin Fraser as the new head coach and brought in players like Alejandro Moreno, Jimmy Conrad, Tristan Bowen and Heath Pearce among others that would not only help solidify the defense but also give the attack a much-needed boost.

The club started off strong in the preseason, snagging two consecutive wins. However, things quickly turned and Chivas USA lost five of their next seven matches, six of those shutouts.

Nevertheless, Mendoza maintains that the squad has “great potential on offense.” Perhaps what the slumbering attack needs, then, is the fiery spark the midfielder used to display when he roamed the middle of the pitch for the Goats from 2005 to '08.

It’s a tall order, but it’s a challenge that Mendoza has dealt with before and one which he’ll gladly deal with again.

“The responsibility I take on with this club will be big,” Mendoza said. “It’s a new challenge for me, but one that I’m prepared for mentally. I learned a lot in Mexican soccer and I hope to contribute my best. I want this Chivas USA team to be a protagonist like it was when I was here, and I want it to return to the league’s top sports.”

Mendoza will have his first shot at helping Chivas USA reclaim their former glory on Saturday, when they host Sporting in each team’s season opener.

“It’s a new chapter in my life," he said. "All I can say is the team worked very hard during preseason and [Saturday] will be a great test to see what we’re made of and how far this team can go.”

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