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The future of the United States Men's National Team is full of promise. With Timothy Weah, Christian Pulisic, Josh Sargent and Haji Wright all developing at an impressive rate, the national side's attack is in good hands.
The midfield is shaping up very nicely too. Alexis Méndez, the 18-year-old Californian currently on the books at Bundesliga side SC Freiburg, has started turning heads.
But how good is he and how far can he go? We take a look.
Who Is Alexis Méndez?
Born and bred in Los Angeles, Méndez played soccer from when he was barely out of preschool. He joined Chivas USA's academy but moved to LA Galaxy – following Chivas coach Brian Kleiban – as a fresh-faced early teen when the former were dissolved in 2014.
Quickly establishing himself as one of the highest rated young players at the club, he joined LA Galaxy II in the United Soccer League to get some first-team minutes under his belt.
It worked a treat as Méndez confidently showcased his gifts in just a handful of starts, his technical ability and intelligent movement belying his baby face and slight frame.
Stevie ! ⚽️💙 pic.twitter.com/uvFgOpYG63
— Alex Mendez (@aleexm21) January 9, 2016
For a 17-year-old kid, being thrown into the white-hot intensity of a men's game can be intimidating. Not for this LA native, though, who bolstered his reputation as one of the country's rising stars.
While Méndez catapulted himself into the spotlight with the USMNT U20 side at the CONCACAF U20 Championship last year – which we'll come to later – he remains eligible for Mexico having not yet represented the United States seniors in a competitive game.
Although the 18-year-old hasn't made a definitive decision on his future at this stage, he can certainly be pleased with what he has achieved thus far in red, white and blue.
There is very little data available for the player at the club level, given that he has only just broken into the Freiburg youth team in the Under-19 Bundesliga.
He made his debut for the Germans on February 3, coming on as a late substitute against Karlsruher, and was quickly handed his full debut in a 3-2 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt six days later.
There are, however, stats aplenty from his various appearances for the USA's youth teams. For instance, his output at the CONCACAF U20 Championship was nothing short of staggering; eight goals and four assists in just seven games.
Méndez controlled the midfield in every game, his touch, vision and movement making him an elusive opponent and marking him out as a player destined for big things.
An attack-minded midfielder with a delightful left foot, Méndez is adept at finding space between the lines of midfield and attack. As a result, he is often the link and responsible for progressing the play, either with a penetrative pass or a burst of pace into space.
Having watched countless hours of masterful midfielders Andrés Iniesta and Guti – legends of Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively – Méndez has picked up useful hints on how to time runs, how to spot gaps in the opponent's defence and how to shape the body prior to shooting.
And, as you will see from the video below, he is deadly from set-pieces, a product of countless hours practicing free-kicks on the training field while he waited for a lift after a session.
Méndez is most comfortable as the most-advanced in a midfield three, which enables him to find space in the attacking third and link up with forwards.
He has shown an impressive understanding of the game at such a young age, too, knowing when to drop deep and when to make a run to the edge of the box when the wingers pull wide to create the space. Armed with a deadly shot, one thinks we're going to see Méndez score a lot of goals from the edge of the penalty area in the years ahead.
There was little surprise when Méndez was named 2018 US Soccer Young Male Player of the Year in December.
After all, the No.8 was awarded the Golden Ball for his performances at the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship in Florida in November.
Méndez was the talk of the tournament and while the likes of the US Virgin Islands and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are not the level of opposition he will face in the future, he showed his big-game mettle by securing the title with a brilliant double against Mexico in the final.
Like a clutch of his U20 teammates – including Brady Scott, Chris Richards, Chris Gloster and Sebastian Soto – in the Bundesliga Méndez has found a fantastic environment in which to hone his skills and improve as a player.
While he is yet to make his senior debut for Freiburg, one suspects it is only a matter of time. The club are doing the sensible thing, though. Southwest Germany is a different world than the Californian bubble and Méndez must bide his time and adapt to a different culture and style before he is ready to compete in the Bundesliga.
As for the international scene, the immediate future holds plenty of exciting opportunities for Méndez. There is, of course, the FIFA U20 World Cup in Poland starting in May, the draw for which takes place on February 24.
It is also anticipated he will participate in the 2020 Olympics. However, while the midfielder is expected to stay with the United States for the U20 World Cup this year, it's less clear who he will represent in Tokyo. He will almost certainly have made a decision regarding his allegiance by that stage.
Make no mistake, though; Méndez has a wonderful future ahead of him and it will be exciting to see him follow in the footsteps of Christian Pulisic and make waves in German soccer.