We are drawing close to the two-year anniversary of Jonathan Gonzalez’s decision to play for the Mexican national team — filing a one-time switch that severed his ties to the U.S. National Team program he grew up in — and while he is still waiting for his breakthrough with El Tri, the young Monterrey midfielder has no regrets about his decision.
The former U.S. Under-20 National Team midfielder made headlines after his decision to file a one-time change of association with FIFA to play for Mexico. Since that decision, Gonzalez has made just two appearances with the Mexican senior national team, but he has not wavered in believing he made the right decision to play for Mexico.
“I knew that the decision was never going to be easy. I knew whatever decision I made there were going to be a lot of changes,” Gonzalez told SBI. “The decision I made was the best for me and best for my future. I’m really happy that I made the right decision.”
Gonzalez has yet to face the United States in a competitive match, coming close a year ago when he was called up for El Tri’s friendly against the U.S. Men’s National Team. He didn’t wind up playing in Mexico’s loss to the USMNT, but he was in the stadium that day and admitted to having some mixed emotions.
“To be honest it was pretty tough,” Gonzalez said. “To see all the guys I used to be with, the familiar faces. It was something really different for me. It was pretty awkward to be honest. I talked to some guys and wished them good luck.
“I think that’s something that’s going to have to come in the future, and it’s something I’m going to have to face,” Gonzalez said of playing against the United States. “I feel like it’s going to be a really good moment for me, being there and seeing my old teammates and playing against them. That’s something that’s going to be very awesome. I know I might not be wearing the same colors as them, but just being on the field with the guys I used to play with when I was younger is something that’s going to be pretty awesome.”
Gonzalez still speaks to several former U.S. teammates, and while plenty of U.S. Soccer fans see Gonzalez as the enemy now that he plays for Mexico, his former teammates don’t treat him that way.
“I’ve been with them since I was 14, we’ve had a really great bond and we’re really good friends,” Gonzalez said. “The decision I made has nothing to do with our friendship. Those are guys who I always stay in touch.”
The California-born midfielder has had a tough few months, which included missing out on the Under-20 World Cup after not being released for the tournament by Monterrey, and more recently he has found himself stuck on the bench at the Liga MX powerhouse. The saving grace has been his recent involvement in Mexican national team camps for young prospects, camps run by El Tri coach Tata Martino.
“Not getting to the World Cup is something that really hit me,” Gonzalez said. “Like every player, it’s a dream to go to a World Cup. This time I couldn’t go, so I was just really anxious to get back and wear the colors and be back with the national team.”
As for his struggles for playing time at Monterrey, Gonzalez is keeping things in perspective. As much success as he enjoyed at the start of his career, he also realizes that he’s still young at just 20 years old, and knows the fight for playing time is something he has to handle.
“I knew it was something I might have to face sooner or later,” Gonzalez said. “Now being a new coach, and different style of play. It’s part of the game. I’m just trying to work harder and fight for my spot again.”
Gonzalez has also been serving as an ambassador for the Allstate Sueno Alianza National Showcase, a program for young prospects in the United States, and a program that helped Gonzalez land his opportunity with Monterrey when he took part in the program as a 14-year-old.
“When I went in the program in 2013 it was only one or two years old, so to see it grow so much is really amazing,” Gonzalez said. “The opportunities are growing and the guys have a really good chance to demonstrate what they’re capable of.”
The showcase is taking place in Los Angeles, with 50 finalists chosen out of 5,000 candidates for the opportunity to compete in front of scouts from Europe, MLS and Liga MX.
Gonzalez was a member of the U.S. Under-14 national team program when he participated in Alianza, with the fledgling showcase helping him secure a place in Monterrey’s academy. He eventually worked his way into a place on Monterrey’s first team, and became a starter on a Liga MX title-winning team in 2017.
It was around that same time that Gonzalez began receiving attention from the Mexican federation, which recruited him heavily at a time when the USMNT was in the midst of an eventual failed World Cup qualifying campaign.
Gonzalez says he felt ignored by U.S. Soccer at a time when his career was taking off, and interest from the Mexican federation was growing. That despite the fact he had been a regular part of the U.S. youth national team setup for five years, a period of time during which Mexico showed no interest.
The Mexican federation picked a good time to ramp up its interest though, courting Gonzalez while the USMNT didn’t, and it was enough to convince Gonzalez to make a change.
“When you have one side making you feel wanted, but the other side doesn’t make you feel important it makes you think,” Gonzalez said. “There wasn’t that same communication, and it didn’t feel like there was real interest.”
Gonzalez wasn’t the first dual national to have to decide between playing for the United States and playing for another country, and he won’t be the last. Sergino Dest, Richie Ledezma and Sebastian Soto are just some of the young prospects who could wind up following a path similar to Gonzalez if they wind up leaving the U.S. Soccer program to represent other countries.
Gonzalez isn’t actively pushing his former U.S. teammates to join him in the Mexico setup — though his younger brother Adrian has also joined El Tri’s youth setup — but Gonzalez does have some simple advice for those players faced with a choice similar to the one he made almost two years ago.
“I would tell them to follow their heart,” Gonzalez told SBI. “A big part of it is peace of mind. They just have to really think about what they’re going to do and make sure it’s going to help them in their future.”