Many well-known fictional and historical figures are alleged to have delivered messages through the medium of food. Hansel, Gretel, Lucrezia Borgia… the names are familiar and eternal. There may be a new person joining their illustrious ranks, and his name is Jason Pendant.
In September, Thể Thao 247 reported the Red Bulls left back posted a picture on social media of a bowl of phở, affixing the image of the rice noodle soup with an emoji of the Vietnamese flag. According to the story, this move was meant to signal his intent to the Vietnam Football Federation. Was this the act of sending a message to the national team or simply a man attempting to show his followers what he was eating for dinner?
Mysterious social media posts or not, swapping allegiances is all the rage these days, with FIFA easing the path for a switch. In his younger academy days, Pendant was a French youth international, but has not received a call-up since 2014. Few are able to break into the rotation for the reigning world champions, so looking elsewhere is natural. Despite what some might think, this is not the case of a player desperately grasping for any federation that will have him. The 23-year-old has a great affinity for his mother’s country, despite not “setting foot in his mother’s hometown since he was 6 years old.”
“Vietnam is a part of my heart,” he said in 2019. “I was raised with the typical Vietnamese culture, from dishes, stories, songs to movies. Vietnam is a part of me… I will definitely have to consider it carefully.”
It would be a highly advantageous time to make the switch. Vietnam is currently atop its group in the second stage of AFC World Cup qualifying, attempting to reach both the paramount third round and the 2023 Asian Cup. The next fixtures are in March and June, with crucial matches against second-place Malaysia, Indonesia, and the United Arab Emirates.
A cursory glance of the blogosphere yields a reverberating drumbeat of hope that Pendant will suit up for the Rồng Vàng (Golden Dragon), ranked 93rd in the world by FIFA. National team fans frequently place hopes on the arrival of interesting foreigners, assuming this heralded hero will lift the program to previously unreached heights. A Sochaux-trained fullback and former vice-captain presents quite the intriguing acquisition, particularly on a squad wholly composed of domestic players. Regardless of media clamor and fan desire, the seamless transition of dual-nationals into the fold is not a guaranteed success and could present a challenge to manager Park Hang-seo.
“It would be hard to say if he would integrate into the team and culture,” said noted tactics analyst and expert on Vietnamese soccer Huan Nguyen. “The core of the senior team is the 2018 U-23 team that went to the finals of the AFC U-23 tournament. Another wrinkle is that Đoàn Văn Hậu, who recently returned to Hanoi FC from Heerenveen on a year-long loan, also plays left back.”
Despite mild trepidation, Nguyen believes Pendant “should get a look, but it would be tough for him given the extensive travel to get from New York to Southeast Asia for games and friendlies.” While the inconveniently timed MLS offseason normally would be a hindrance, the global coronavirus pandemic might have provided an opening. With the 2020 MLS season opening on a later than usual April 3rd, there is potentially enough time for a flight to Kuala Lumpur for the qualifier and a return to the United States, vaccination permitting.
Despite the hopes of a fan base and the supposedly cryptic social media messages, Pendant has not spoken with the Vietnam Football Federation and was excluded from recent unofficial inter-squad friendlies at the end of December. “My opinion is still the same,” he recently told Zing News in an interview that sent waves through the country’s online media. “I hope to have a chance to try my hand at the Vietnam team. To me, the two Vietnamese words carry a very sacred meaning. However, I have not yet been contacted by the VFF. At this point, I only know to improve my performance and performance in the host team. I believe there is still a way for me and VFF to find a common voice and take advantage of this opportunity.”
The Sarcelles, France native acknowledges there will be “legal difficulties” if he commits himself to Vietnam, particularly with regard to citizenship. Pendant “understands these issues,” and plans to keep focusing on training. He describes the country’s supporters as “true and passionate football fans” and “hopes to have a chance to meet them one day.”
And he has been working hard on the field, attempting to grow and develop as a player. While some may have a less favorable opinion of Major League Soccer, Pendant “feels very happy that New York has been a part of his career,” praising the technique of the American game and the might of the entire Red Bull organization. The self-described “fairly fast and technical player” is “first and foremost a defender,” but do not discount his ability to contribute to the attack. His club career should continue to progress after a tumultuous year, with a possible boost next season from a new manager and changed tactics.
While one part of his professional life appears on the road to fulfillment, another is still yearning to participate in the inimitable pageantry and tribalism of international soccer. His pursuit remains a constant quest, one that is fully voiced in every media appearance. “My dream is to be selected by the Vietnamese national team,” Pendant repeated in a recent profile by YouTube news outlet Oh My Goal.
The dream continues, but eventually it must come true or die. Perhaps Pendant will continue to publish pictures of phở and other Vietnamese cuisine on his social media, somehow catapulting him into the national team picture. Even if it doesn’t, he still gets to enjoy a delicious and nutritious meal.