Jonathan Gonzalez could have been a first choice midfielder for the United States men’s national team for a decade. Instead, the 18-year-old Liga MX star will suit up for Mexico. He hasn’t signed his FIFA one-time switch paperwork yet, but this tweet from Gonzalez indicates he won’t be changing his mind.
Si me consideran, estoy decidido a defender los colores de este país. Sería un honor— Jona (@jgonzalezz25) January 8, 2018
“If I’m called,” he says, “I’m determined to defend the colors of this country. It would be an honor.”
Ever since he started playing regularly for CF Monterrey, Gonzalez has been touted as a future national team starter. His performances on an even brighter stage in the playoffs suggested that he was ready to slot right into the USMNT lineup. Now, that won’t ever happen.
Gonzalez is Mexican-American and was born in raised in California. He has regularly represented United States youth national teams. Former USMNT player Hugo Perez said he knows Gonzalez always wanted to play for the United States. But due to incompetence on multiple levels of the USMNT program, he’ll be suiting up for its biggest rivals instead.
So, how big of a deal is this?
It’s really bad if you’re a USMNT fan, for a couple reasons. On a macro level, it’s a sign that a lot of people are asleep at the wheel.
“Personally, nobody came and talked to me and let me know about that friendly,” Gonzalez said about the USMNT’s match in November against Portugal. “I just wasn’t called in.”
It’s not abnormal for 18-year-olds to not get a personal phone call after missing a senior national team roster, but the situation in November was a bit different than normal. The USMNT was clearly entering a rebuilding period following its World Cup qualifying failure, with very few veteran players called into camp. Fans and people at the top of the federation wanted to see young players get a look, and they got just that, with the likes of Weston McKinnie and Tyler Adams getting starts. Josh Sargent, who has never played a professional game, got called up. It’s the type of game Gonzalez should have been called up for.
But it seems like he was understanding about not making the squad. He just wanted some indication that he was on the USMNT radar. Following a surprise failure to make the World Cup — which is generally indicative of a lack of talent — it makes sense for a team to reach out to any dual nationals eligible to switch nations to give them some reassurance in an attempt to stop a talent drain that could exacerbate the team’s problems. The United States did not do that. Meanwhile, Mexico actively courted Gonzalez.
Though we’ll never know for sure, it’s likely that all it would have taken to keep Gonzalez from filing his one-time switch this month is a phone call. But with an interim coach, a lame-duck president, and that president’s right-hand man plotting to take his spot, appeasing Gonzalez or anyone else like him was the last thing on the mind of anyone semi-in charge.
On a micro level, the USMNT has lost its best defensive midfield prospect. According to Perez, the likes of Bruce Arena, under-20 manager Tab Ramos and interim coach Dave Sarachan couldn’t see what Gonzalez’s club manager, Antonio Mohamed, sees every day.
Knowing Jonathan well and his family I wish him the best he deserves it I wish he would have stayed with us because we need those type of players Mohammed saw in him what we could not in the US that is why he is a starter in one of the best teams in— Hugo Perez (@hugoperez_07) January 9, 2018
The Mexican press sees it too. Gonzalez was named to the Liga MX best XI last season. Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio said he “sees possibilities for him to become an important player” if the Monterrey midfielder picks El Tri, noting that he believes Gonzalez can expand his game and play a box-to-box role, rather than the holding midfield position he plays for Rayados.
Gonzalez was already excellent defensively and solid at keeping the ball, but it looks like he’s getting a lot better at moving the ball forward too. Here are a couple of great moments from Monterrey’s season opener over the weekend.
Connecting passes and advancing possession methodically was not a consistent part of Jonathan González's game in the fall.— Scuffed (@zlebmada) January 8, 2018
He did it twice in 3 minutes in the first match of the Clausura on Saturday.
So the USMNT lost:
- A top teenage midfield prospect,
- Who is good enough to start right now,
- And is developing into a two-position player,
- While rapidly expanding his game,
- And he plays for Mexico now.
It’s a monumental failure on the part of the federation, and one that could hurt really badly for a long time.
But if he doesn’t want to be here, screw him, right?
That line of thinking is garbage.
The United States men’s national team’s best player at the 2014 World Cup was Jermaine Jones. Its best player at the 2016 Copa America was John Brooks, and its defense proceeded to crumble in his absence 15 months later, causing it to miss the World Cup. Both would have played for Germany if they were given regular places in that squad. There have been numerous other dual national USMNT legends, like Uruguayan-American Tab Ramos and Dutch-American Earnie Stewart.
Like many people who have spent time living in two countries and who have family from two countries, Gonzalez feels strongly attached to both of them. The idea he is incapable of giving as much to a national soccer team as someone who only feels attached to one country is easily proven wrong by the likes of Jones, Brooks, Ramos, and Stewart.
There have been too many great USMNT players who started their careers abroad to list in this article. The USMNT does not have a problem with dual nationals not playing hard. Bruce Arena is wrong. Any talented player who wants to represent the USMNT should be courted by U.S. Soccer.
And U.S. Soccer shouldn’t feel like it’s too good to do some recruiting. Spain, while defending European and World champions, worked to convince Diego Costa to switch allegiances. Germany, with its country having one of the most liberal immigration policies in Europe, is constantly working to convince dual national players to pick Die Mannschaft. The best teams in the world don’t consider themselves above this, so why should the United states? The USMNT is not special.
There is no silver lining here. Arrogance and mismanagement caused the United States to lose an 18-year-old budding supertstar — a player with program-altering potential — to its biggest rival.