As if the soccer rivalry between the United States and Mexico needed any more tension.
Enter Jonathan Gonzalez, an 18-year-old midfielder from Santa Rosa who is eligible to suit up for both squads — a guy of such prodigious talent he may just set off an international fracas over which country gets his services.
But let’s back up just a bit and see how we got to this point. Gonzalez’s soccer path has always been bright — he has been playing on the U.S. national team since he was 13 — but his near-meteorite rise in recent months is breathtaking.
Gonzalez who grew up in Santa Rosa and played for the Atletico Santa Rosa soccer club, became a hot property after dazzling scouts at a showcase aimed at Liga MX teams when he was 14.
“When we took him to the tryout, out of 18 clubs, 13 offered him a contract,” said Adolfo Mendoza, president of Atletico. “That’s how much he stood out.”
Gonzalez chose Monterrey, but also continued to shine on the international stage for the United States youth teams.
When he was picked for the U14 national team, he was one of the two youngest players on the squad.
In February, when U.S. coach Tab Ramos picked the U20 national team for World Cup qualifiers, he pulled Gonzalez and Tyler Adams from younger squads. Gonzalez was the youngest guy on the team.
“I try to pick the best group I can pick,” Ramos said at the time. “Those two guys happen to be two years younger, but I think they’re ready to contribute just like everybody else.”
With Monterrey this summer, Gonzalez was more than ready to contribute. He was put into the starting lineup July 21 for veteran Jesus Molina, who was playing with the Mexican national team. He took the defensive midfield spot and hasn’t relinquished it.
He’s played in eight of Rayados’ nine games since his debut with the first team and started seven of those. Well worthy of note: Monterrey sits alone atop Liga MX.
“If I’m the coach and I’m (7-2) and I’m winning and I’m in first place I’m not going to change anything,” Mendoza said. “As a coach you are looking for chemistry, where the team functions the best with personality and style and backgrounds. Don’t fix something that is not broken.”
Gonzalez’s performance on Mexico’s grandest stage has not gone unnoticed.
ESPN is reporting that U.S. national team Bruce Arena wants his digits. American Soccer Now reported in August that Gonzalez is committed to playing for the United States, while Mexican soccer publication The Record is saying officials from Mexico’s national team are trying to take advantage of Gonzalez’s dual citizenship (his parents were born in Mexico) so he can suit up for El Tri.
In what seems like the blink of an eye, Gonzalez is the hottest teenage soccer property on the men’s side since Christian Pulisic.
So far, Gonzalez has expressed an allegiance to the U.S. team.
“It’s amazing,” said Jonathan’s dad, Alonso Gonzalez of Santa Rosa. “It’s something we never expected this fast. It just happened so fast. He sacrificed a lot; he showed he can do it. We are just trying to enjoy the moments.”
There have been a lot of moments to enjoy. And, of course, it hasn’t happened in a blink of an eye.