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Indian Super League: John Stiven Mendoza – The Journey so far from Colombia to NYCFC via Chennaiyin

As the Chennaiyin FC striker strides his way to the corridors of MLS side New York City FC, Goal takes a look at the expedition the 23-year-old’s career has taken…

John Stiven Mendoza’s two-year sojourn in the Indian Super League (ISL), with 2015 champions Chennaiyin FC, has finally reaped rich rewards for him.

As Goal reported on Tuesday, the 23-year-old Colombian has put pen to paper on a season long contract with Major League Soccer (MLS) side New York City FC. His effervescent style of play, particulalry in attack, helped him dazzle in the big stage where opponents found it hard to negate his influence in the final third and he ended the season with 13 goals, three assists and 42 shots at goal in 16 appearances for the Blues of Tamil Nadu.

It’s been one hell of a rollercoaster ride for Mendoza, who was born in Palmira, in Colombia, on 27th June 1992. He made his professional debut as an 18-year-old for local club Envigado, in the Southern American nation’s top division. After playing for two other clubs, through loan stints, Mendoza moved to one of the nation’s most renonwed football teams in Deportivo Cali. 

It was during his stint with the club in 2014, that he was offered a chance to play in the inaugural season of the ISL, and he jumped at it. He was signed on by the Mahendra Sigh Dhoni co-owned franchise, Chennaiyin, and made his debut versus FC Goa at the Fatorda Stadium, coming off the bench as a second half substitute. His pace and trickery easily made him standout in his 27 minute cameo.

He would form a formidable partnership in attack with Elano, the club’s marquee signing who would eventually finish the tournament with the Golden boot, scoring four goals and assisting others. His combination with his Brazilian teammate was noted and praised by FC Goa manager Zico. 

His appearances would, however, be limited to just nine for the inaugural season, as he hobbled off with an injury in the tie versus FC Pune City and made no further appearances for his team. FC Goa manager Zico had mentioned that Mendoza’s injury could prove to be fatal for Chennaiyin FC’s title bid and indeed they went down to Kerala Blasters in the semis.

In South America, the diminutive forward signed on for Brazil’s biggest club Corinthians. He made a total of 18 appearances for the Brasiliero Serie A side, channeling in three goals. 

He was once again retained by the South Indian franchise, this time on loan from the Brazilian giants. He began his expedition as a substitute in their opening game loss to Atletico de Kolkata. 

Yet, he went on to make 14 starts for the Mahendra Singh Dhoni co-owned team and scored an unbelievable 13 goals, combined with three assists in a path-breaking season for Chennaiyin FC, who ended the season as Champions under Marco Materazzi’s tutelage. He won the Golden boot in his second conquest, scoring twice in the final as well. 

It must be noted here that leagues such as the MLS keep a keen eye for talent in other developing nations and the Patrick Vieria coached team New York City FC certainly scouted Mendoza extensively to identify him as a suitable addition in attack, in conjugation with the ilk of David Villa and Andrea Pirlo, not to mention Frank Lampard. 

For those unaware, Vieira and Materazzi were teammates at Inter Milan as well and surely the former would have sought the Italian’s suggestion before opting to rope him in for his first managerial stint.

“We are happy and proud to see Mendoza moving to New York City FC in the MLS. We won’t give up on having him back for ISL 3 but at the moment we just want to congratulate and wish him the very best. The move also speaks volumes about Chennaiyin FC and the league in general. It shows top leagues like the MLS and in this case a big name coach like Patrick Vieira and his staff also closely follows the ISL. Mendoza deserves this move,” revealed a Chennaiyin FC official.

No doubt Indian football aficionados feel the same about the wily Colombian.