Written by Scott Strasser
VICTORIA, BC - Calgarian soccer player Miguel Mendoza has come a long way from the youth pitches he played on as a teenager in Canada.
The 18-year old defender is currently plying his trade in Bremen, Germany, where he is part-way through a one-year contract with JFV Bremerhaven. Mendoza is currently the starting right back for the club’s U19 squad, which competes in Bremen’s A-Junioren Regionalliga Nord.
Before making the switch to Europe, Mendoza was a member of the Pacific Elite Soccer Institute -- an elite training program for youth soccer players from Canada and the United States.
Based in Victoria, B.C., the program is geared towards high school-aged soccer players with the potential of playing professionally in Europe or elsewhere.
German coach Thomas Niendorf started PESI in September 2016. Niendorf is most well known for his work developing the Vancouver Whitecaps residency program, as well as being the coach that sent Calgarian players Owen Hargreaves and Kevin McKenna to professional clubs in Germany, where they began their careers as teenagers.
Niendorf is a recognized figure in the Canadian soccer scene, known for his extensive level of professional contacts in Germany. Many Canadian players earned their professional stripes after being under his tutelage.
Apart from Hargreaves and McKenna, professional players that were coached under Niendorf include Whitecaps’ midfielder Russel Teibert, goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld and defender Nik Ledgerwood. (All of whom played for the Canadian national team).
Could Mendoza be the next Hargreaves or McKenna? Maybe. Maybe not. But he already has a few things in common.
Born in the Philippines, Mendoza and his family immigrated to Canada at the age of 13, where he played youth soccer for various clubs in Calgary. After stints with Blizzard SC and South West United, he saw success with his 1999 Foothills team, which won the provincial championship for every age group from U14 onwards.
Alongside his club commitments, Mendoza also suited up for the Alberta provincial team as a teenager. He competed for Alberta in the Canadian Soccer Association's Prairie Invitational tournament in 2013* and a few years later, played on the U16 Alberta squad that won the Canada West Summer Games in 2015.
After enjoying plenty of success at the youth level, Mendoza was invited to play for the Calgary Foothills PDL team at the age of 17. In his lone season with the semi-professional U23 outfit, the defender helped Foothills punch above its weight, winning the Northwest Conference title and finishing second in the entire league.
For a team in just its second season in North America’s highest development league, it was a Cinderella run that ended only after a penalty goal in the last few minutes of the 2016 PDL final
With his career on an upward trajectory, Mendoza’s opportunities to pursue a professional career were just around the corner.
Following a trip to the United States with his Foothills team in 2016, Mendoza was recognized by Niendorf, who saw potential in the young defender. After a meeting with Mendoza and his parents, the 17-year old was invited to join PESI in Victoria.
Mendoza said the opportunity to join PSI seemed to come “out of the blue.”
“I had just come back from Portland with my 98/99 team for Foothills,” he said. “A parent from the same program called my mother and said ‘hey, Thomas Niendorf is a famous scout, he’s had previous experience with the Whitecaps, and with German clubs.”
“Thomas was describing what he’s trying to build in Victoria,” Mendoza continued. “He was building a program for athletes that want to become professional players in Germany or somewhere else. He invited me to be a part of the program.”
After completing his first semester of grade 12,* Mendoza packed his bags and moved to Victoria in February 2017 to start training with PESI.
Mendoza experienced his first opportunity to go to Germany in March receiving a trial opportunity with 1. FC Magdeburg. In April he returned back to PESI. After training with the program for three months he then joined the men's team of Bremer SV and the U19 junior team of JFV Bremerhaven in July and has been there ever since. He's also been invited to train with the youth team of Bundesliga side Werder Bremen.
Like many Canadian players before him, Mendoza admitted it took time to adapt to the higher intensity of play in Europe.
“The speed of play was overwhelming,” he said of his first training session in Germany. “You really have to adapt to how fast and quick your decision making is.
“After a few training sessions I think I got more into the rhythm of it, so kind of adapted to it.”
Mendoza credits the training he received during his time with PESI in helping him adapt to the game in Germany.
“PESI definitely helped me mature, both as a person and as a player,” he said. “It really gave me the initiative to become responsible and act like a professional.”
He said he still calls Niendorf after every game to update him on his progress.
“Thomas’ preparation is really professional. He understands and knows what you need to expect when you go to Europe. I’m definitely going to give him a big thanks.”