Over the past few years, with several changes in coaching staff and administrations, the Pumas academy has suffered and struggled to produce much talent.
As coaching staffs come and go, the focus and mission of the academy has become unstable, and many good prospects within the organization have found themselves on the outside looking in.
Pumas’ academy is commonly referred to as “la cantera,” which translates to quarry in English. It’s a fitting translation, considering UNAM has mined several ‘diamonds’ from the cantera over the years.
One of the prospects that has stood out in recent tournaments has been versatile defender and midfielder Alan Mendoza. Surprisingly though, Mendoza was loaned to CF Merida, now Venados FC, ahead of the 2015 Clausura.
In an exclusive interview with Pumas English, Mendoza discusses how he took the news of the loan, his memories in the Pumas cantera, his success at Venados, and his future.
“Yes, of course it was a surprise to me,” says Mendoza about the news of the transfer. “I never thought of leaving the club like that, but of course I took it in the best way possible.”
Mendoza’s loan was a surprise to many, and for good reasons.
As the first team struggled, Mendoza excelled in the cantera, highlighted by his 2013 Apertura and 2014 Clausura, where he scored a combined 10 goals for the U-20 side.
“Truthfully, it was very good for me,” Mendoza says about his time in the Pumas academy. “I think I had many good moments there, with the academy, and the first team.”
“In my years with Pumas, I felt very happy. I played in international tournaments, in the lower divisions, with the U-20’s, and various games with the first team.”
“The entire time I was there was very good,” he added.
Despite the shell-shock, Mendoza took the news with an open mind.
“I knew coming here to Merida was an important opportunity for me,” he says. “Many things went through my mind, but I knew it was good.”
Not only has Mendoza done well, he’s become a fixture in the starting lineup and on the surface has done everything you could be asked to do on a short-term loan.
“I didn’t think it would go so well,” Mendoza admits about the success he experienced in the 2015 Clausura with Merida.
Mendoza started and played every minute of the 13 league games for Merida, plus two playoff games. He racked up nearly 1800 minutes over league and cup play.
“I was very happy with how things happened,” he says about his first tournament away from Pumas.
“The fact that I participated in all the league minutes, was very active in the Copa MX, I enjoyed it, and it helped me.”
Prior to joining Merida, most of the competition Mendoza faced was other Liga MX youth clubs along with sporadic minutes in the Copa MX with Pumas.
The 21-year old says there are a number of differences between the U-20 league and the Ascenso MX.
“There are a lot of differences, beginning with the intensity,” Mendoza says.
“There are many players (in Ascenso MX) with experience. Some that have moved to the first division, and also many that have experience in the Ascenso. Since there is so much experience, the game is different.”
Experience can be challenging, but Mendoza doesn’t discount the intensity of the youth leagues in Mexico either.
“In the U-20’s, we all want to win a spot. We want to be seen, and we want to make it to the first team.”
Mendoza’s move to Merida has been successful, and perhaps part of the success has been his quick adoption to his new environment thanks to some familiar faces.
Erik Vera, a 23-year old midfielder that has grown within the Pumas cantera with Mendoza, was loaned to Merida for the same timeframe, and Odin Patino, an ex-Pumas goalkeeper, has been with Merida since 2014.
“It was also something that helped me,” he admits. “The fact I did not come alone, to come here with Erik, and to arrive and meet with Odin was something good. It helped us adapt faster.”
Five games into the 2015 Apertura, Mendoza is picking up right where he left off. He has started and played every minute of Venados’ five games, and has scored one goal so far, which sits well when he talks about what he wants to accomplish in this time at Merida.
“I want to repeat and improve what I did last tournament, play all the minutes available, and help the team do well. We always want to become champions,” he says.
As for his future, Mendoza is taking it one day at a time.
“Yes, it’s for one-year (loan to Venados),” he confirms.
“I hope things go well for me, I hope to be playing, and I hope things come out the way I want them to. Afterwards, I may have a few options and I’ll have to analyze them.”