Embed from Getty Images
The USMNT start the year with a huge loss to their biggest rivals Mexico without even stepping on a field.
In the following letter, highly-touted 18-year-old Monterrey midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez described his intent to fulfill a one-time switch with FIFA to represent the Mexican national team during his international career.
— Jona (@jgonzalezz25) January 9, 2018
Gonzalez had represented the United States at various youth levels prior to his announcement, and had reportedly reassured U.S. Soccer of his long-term commitment to the USMNT. However, the failure of the USMNT to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and a comedy of errors in its aftermath appear to have permanently pushed Gonzalez south.
According to FIFA’s Eligibility Rules:
“If a Player has more than one nationality, or if a Player acquires a new nationality, or if a Player is eligible to play for several representative teams due to nationality, he may, only once, request to change the Association for which he is eligible to play international matches to the Association of another country of which he holds nationality.”
In summary, Gonzalez’s birthplace, Santa Rosa, CA, established his eligibility to play for the USMNT. He is also eligible per FIFA rules to play for the Mexican Football Federation because both of his parents are citizens of Mexico. Gonzalez’s time with the USMNT, specifically in competitive youth matches, cemented the USMNT as his primary national team, though he had not been cap-tied with the senior squad in a competitive match.
Gonzalez’s first opportunity to join the U.S. first-team came in November when the USMNT had a scheduled friendly soon after their 2-1 loss to Trinidad & Tobago. The fallout from this loss ensured interim-manager Dave Sarachan would call in a youth-heavy roster for the friendly, seeing as the USMNT would now be almost two years away from a competitive fixture. Gonzalez would have been an obvious choice for call-up to play alongside Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams in the midfield, but Gonzalez, who was named to the Liga MX Best XI squad, was in the middle of a deep playoff run with Monterrey. Calling Gonzalez up during a playoff run where he played such an integral part could have risked his future and Monterrey’s success, and so in an effort to not upset the prospect or his club, Gonzalez was left off the roster.
To be clear, had Gonzalez played with the USMNT senior-squad in the Portugal friendly, he would still be eligible for a one-time switch to Mexico, but the odds of that switch would be much lower if the player was already earning caps and could visualize his place as the future star of the USMNT. It was assumed that even if U.S. Soccer abided by Monterrey’s wishes to keep Gonzalez during that period, they could at least deliver the second half of that equation. It might have just taken one phone call, but if U.S. Soccer could communicate Gonzalez’s role with the national team, they shouldn’t have to worry about one of their only special prospects flipping to their enemy.
“I wasn’t called in, in November. Personally, nobody came and talked to me and let me know about that friendly. I just wasn’t called in.” – Jonathan Gonzalez in an interview with Soccer America
Embarrassing. Just flat out embarrassing from U.S. Soccer. Depending on Gonzalez’s future performances, losing a player of this caliber could be as impactful as missing the World Cup (If Bruce Arena’s USMNT can’t squeak by T&T to qualify, imagine how embarrassing they’d look in a real tournament). Not only will he not apply his services to the USMNT, but we get to look forward to him tearing us apart for more than a decade.
Not that I can blame Gonzalez for his decision. His chances of participating in the 2018 World Cup have increased by, well… anything greater than zero, he can immerse himself into a much more successful soccer culture and fulfill a childhood dream of playing for the country he most closely identifies with. On the other end, he doesn’t have to worry about the instability and personal agendas within U.S. Soccer and has a legitimate chance to compete for international hardware if he can break into the first team (which he should).
Gonzalez’s decision hurts, and it will hurt for some time. The part that will linger the most is how preventable this situation could have been. Perhaps he felt slighted by not being called up, but the disrespect and complacency shown by U.S. Soccer to not offer an explanation at the time either a.) prompted him to consider other options, or b.) confirmed doubts he already had about joining the USMNT. Either way, this is one of the first tangible consequences of missing the World Cup, and further evidence a shakeup at U.S. Soccer is necessary to improve scouting and player development.