Family inspiring Guatemala’s Mendez-Laing in Gold Cup | OneFootball

Family inspiring Guatemala’s Mendez-Laing in Gold Cup | OneFootball

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·9 July 2023

Family inspiring Guatemala’s Mendez-Laing in Gold Cup

Article image:Family inspiring Guatemala’s Mendez-Laing in Gold Cup

CINCINNATI, Ohio – One of the best stories to have emerged from the 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup has been the sensational performance from Guatemala.

For the first time in their history, they finished atop their group, with seven points, and now take on Jamaica in the quarterfinals on Sunday evening at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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Playing a key role in this campaign has been winger Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, who made his Guatemala debut in the team’s 1-0 win over Cuba to open the tournament in Group D.

Perhaps more remarkable is the 31-year-old’s journey to play for Guatemala. Both his mother and grandmother were born in Guatemala, while his father was born in Jamaica. However, each parent spent their formidable years living in England where they met, at a bus stop, and eventually started a family.

Mendez-Laing was born in Birmingham, England in 1992 and quickly showed an aptitude for football, making his senior team debut with Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2009. Mendez-Laing also appeared in several England youth national teams before settling into a very accomplished professional career that has seen him play for clubs like Cardiff City, Middlesbrough and now Derby County.

However, it was not until recently that the idea of even playing for Guatemala came to the forefront. With the help of an unofficial Guatemala scout based in the United States, Mendez-Laing was eventually connected with Head Coach Luis Fernando Tena, and the possibility of suiting up for Guatemala became a reality.

“We first had a Zoom call, and then I had a call with the manager. We had a chat and I thought, ‘This is this is serious now.’ I still knew there was a lot of paperwork to be done. I’m thankful to the Federation, who helped me out with that and we got it done fairly quick,” said Mendez-Laing in an exclusive interview with

In just a few weeks with Guatemala, Mendez-Laing has developed an affinity for the Central American country. Pre-tournament training in Guatemala and then playing in front of sold-out crowds in this Gold Cup in which the majority of the fans have been Guatemalan has quickly created a strong bond between the player and country.

“There’s a lot of stuff that I would like to go back and do in Guatemala now after being there for a short period of time. I want to take my mom and experience a few different things. It was very humbling being there. It's a lot different to a lot of stuff in the UK, like the facilities, the training grounds and things like that.”

“I think football-wise, the country is coming up a ladder and there's small little things that I feel like I can help bring change, which helps everybody in the long run. It helps the future coming through. I wouldn't rule out playing there [in the league]. There is a lot of stuff that I’ve thought about doing,” said Mendez-Laing.

Mendez-Laing was very close to his grandmother, who was born and raised in Guatemala. While Mendez-Laing’s grandmother passed away years ago, he still feels her presence, and it was especially palpable when he heard the Guatemalan anthem for the first time as a Guatemala player in the team’s opening match against Cuba.

“That passion that you find when you're playing international is obviously new for me. It automatically took me to that place where I was thinking about my grandmother. I haven't been in Guatemala that long, but I feel that kind of passion coming from that place,” said Mendez-Laing.

From a playing perspective, the adjustment to playing for Guatemala has been seamless for Mendez-Laing, who has quickly developed an understanding with the other players in Tena’s side, easily overcoming the nuisance of a language barrier.

The coach himself is pleased with how Mendez-Laing has adapted to his tactics and playing with his new teammates, while also hailing the habits and pedigree Mendez-Laing brings to the table.

That has translated to the field, where Guatemala is poised to reach its first Gold Cup semifinal since the 1996 edition when there were just nine teams participating. Defeating Jamaica on Sunday and reaching the final four would have a great significance.

“It would mean the world to me and to us. We’ve made history by finishing first in the group stage. Rubio [Rubin] scoring two in one game equaled a record as well. Just being a part of all these things is great. It's great seeing what it means to the people of Guatemala. There are reaction videos of people watching the game at work, or they’re in the kitchen cooking in a restaurant and then they're jumping around, also families in their homes. It's amazing to see and we just want to keep putting smiles on their faces,” said Mendez-Laing.

Playing against Jamaica is also a very personal thing for Mendez-Laing since he will be going against his father’s country. He has been trading many messages with his father ahead of Sunday’s contest, which will be special for Mendez-Laing and his entire family.

“It’s exciting. I know a few of their players as well. My family is Jamaican on my dad's side. I've got a bit of banter going through the family. My dad sent me a picture today of a painting of me playing football that we've had in the house for years and he's put a little Jamaican flag on it and he joked, ‘I'm on the fence tomorrow.’ Obviously, he wants me to win. He's got a house full of people tomorrow, so it’ll be a good atmosphere for them as well,” concluded Mendez-Laing.

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