That was Brandon Vázquez’s secret weapon last season. He started devouring them before games and stacked a career-high 18 goals for FC Cincinnati, double the total from his first five MLS seasons combined.
Hotcakes so fueled his hot play the team arranged for them to be available at pregame meals on all trips and a sponsorship deal with a flapjack-mix company nearly led to some extra dough. At home, he and his girlfriend would walk to the Sleepy Bee Cafe for the plain buttermilks on match days.
But the night before his national team debut this week he was running a fever so all he could stomach was oatmeal. No matter. He scored on a header in the 29th minute, the Americans’ only goal in a 2-1 loss to Serbia.
So, is it time to change the diet?
“I don’t think like that. I’m not superstitious,” he said Friday afternoon as he prowled the streets of Redondo Beach looking for a coffee shop — presumably one that served pancakes. “If having a fever means [I’ll] score every game, it doesn’t feel good at all. So maybe not.”
Vázquez, 24, does have a choice to make, though it’s not necessarily food related. He was born in Chula Vista, in sight of the Mexican border his parents crossed to provide a better life for their family, and, as a dual national, he is eligible to play for either national team. Wednesday’s game, a friendly, didn’t tie Vázquez to the U.S. and the same is true of Saturday’s matinee match with Colombia at a sold-out Dignity Health Sports Park.
But at some point, he’ll have to pick either Mexico or the U.S. and, unlike choosing between pancakes and a fever for his pregame preparation, this choice is difficult because he has great affinity for both countries.
His mother and father are from Guadalajara and Vázquez’s first soccer shirt was a Chivas jersey. His first language was Spanish, he ate little else but Mexican food (no pancakes) at home and he started his career in the academy system with Tijuana of Mexico’s Liga MX.
But when Mexico left him off its roster for the CONCACAF U-17 championship in 2015, he joined an American team that featured Luca de la Torre, Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams and Haji Wright, all of whom played for the U.S. in last month’s World Cup in Qatar.
Vázquez believes he should have been with them. Instead, he was never called into camp.
“I felt like I had done everything to put myself in the best position to go, but of course, it’s out of my control,” he said. “Now this year, starting fresh, I just wanted to step on the field and do what I know how to do best, and that’s score goals. I'll let my play do the talking for me, you know?”
So far, that plan seems to be working, with his senior international debut drawing rave reviews.
“I was really impressed with him,” interim U.S. coach Anthony Hudson said of Vázquez. “He made some really good runs in the box. He got into some good areas. I was really pleased.”
Hudson’s job now is to convince Vázquez — and other dual nationals such as Mexican-American forward Alejandro Zendejas — that his future is with the U.S. But ultimately, the coach said, it is Vázquez's choice and hounding him about it wouldn't make it any easier.
“All we can do is do our best to put on a professional camp, prepare the team well. Make them feel special, help them understand what it means to represent this national team and who we are, make them feel included in the group,” Hudson said. “We really like him. We value him. I'd love if he chose to come to us.
“But we certainly won't be putting any pressure on him.”
And Vázquez says he doesn’t feel any because he doesn’t have to make that decision right now. In the meantime, he’s concentrating on playing well enough to be wanted.
“What’s only on my mind right now is performing well every time I step on the field,” he said. “All the other stuff, I’m taking every step at a time, enjoying the moment. I’m trying not to think about what’s going to happen in the future. I’m just enjoying the process.”
There are some factors that could weigh in the U.S. team’s favor though. On Dec. 12, Vázquez married Jessica Fleck, whom he began dating during his second MLS season with Atlanta United. He said his rapport with teammates is also important and because he’s never played for Mexico, that would appear to be another mark in the U.S. column.
“There’s a lot that goes into it,” he said. “But for sure having teammates that you have good chemistry with is probably the most important part.”
Then there’s the secret weapon: pancakes.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had pancakes in Mexico,” Vázquez said.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.