Francisco "Panchito" Mendoza endeared himself to Chivas USA fans with his tireless efforts on the flank during the club's first four seasons: He was the Goats' first Mexican hero, and when Club Deportivo Guadalajara called in his loan following the 2008 Major League Soccer campaign, he was the team leader in appearances (117 games, including playoffs) and had played more games in the league than any other Mexican-born player.
The winger played in just five games for Guadalajara -- and eight more for Tapatio, its reserve team -- before departing on loan deals to Jaguares in Mexico's Primera Division and Club Tijuana and Indios de Ciudad Juarez in the second-tier Liga de Ascenso.
He returns this season to Chivas USA a little older (he's 25 now) and a lot wiser, and an impressive preseason camp has given him a starting role on the wing -- he's a natural lefty but is capable of playing on either side, which he did while starting eight of nine preparatory matches.
We chatted with Mendoza, through an interpreter, as he and the Goats prepared for Saturday night's league opener against Sporting Club Kansas City at Home Depot Center.
1. Is this a homecoming of sorts for you? So much has changed at Chivas USA since you departed -- and is changing right now.
I'm very excited to be back to the team that gave me the opportunity to be a professional. Now that I've come back, the whole roster is different. The staff is different. But I feel comfortable. I feel like the first time I got here, because [head coach Robin Fraser] is trusting me, and I'm gaining his trust in training.
2. What's your impression of Fraser?
I think he's a coach that knows what he wants. He knows what he's doing. He's very demanding when he's working, and that's important, because you know the player that is playing the best will be the one that will be on the field.
3. You followed your dream to join Guadalajara but didn't see much action and have spent most of past two years on one loan deal or another? Are you disappointed with how it all played out?
That's what I wanted, to go to Chivas Guadalajara -- the best team in Mexico. I learned many things, and I think things went well there. I think it was a very good experience. If I had the chance to do it again, I would do it again.
4. You were on loan to Indios, in Ciudad Juarez, last fall. What was your experience like in the world's most dangerous city?
It's a very, very dangerous city, but as a soccer player, they don't really mess with you. They give you support. I never had any problems. On the contrary, I'm very grateful to the people there, and I feel that if soccer didn't exist in that city, it would be more violent.
5. Did you ever see anything? Did you ever feel like you were in danger?
I saw many things. But that's something else. I think there's danger everywhere, and it is the most dangerous city in the world. Many bad things happen, but I think it also has a positive side. I think if soccer didn't exist in that city, it would be a city without people.
6. What was the worst thing you ever saw?
I really saw bad things. I saw executions. But I never got scared. I think when I got there, I knew what I was getting into. I tried to think about the positive side of things: how nice people treated me there, and it's one of the cities that has treated me the best. But to tell you the truth, I saw a lot of stuff. But that's something you don't want to mess with, because the last thing you want is trouble.
I would stay home, I would go to the park, I would go to the movies. I was living my life normally, but I tried to avoid going to bars, tried to avoid problems. My roommate [in Juarez, former Chivas USA forward] Eduardo Lillingston, he also was very calm, and he didn't go out. I think we were good roommates."