It has been widely reported that US youth international, Jonathan Gonzalez is on the verge of switching allegiances from US Men’s National Team prospect to a Mexican National team player- emphasis on prospect vs. player as viewed by the two different federations. The move will cap-tie Gonzalez, who needs to submit a one-time representation switch, to play for Mexico for the rest of his career.
For USMNT fans it is a hard pill to swallow to see one of the their most promising youngsters (along with McKennie and Pulisic) playing first team football, choosing to play with your bitter rivals at the senior level. One of the preferred coping mechanisms is to deflect the anger to Jonathan to a perceived “lack of patriotism” or lack of “heart for the US” and wishing him good riddance down south. However, Gonzalez is not entirely at fault for the switch. He has represented the US at youth level and had expressed his desires to play for the senior team, so what happened?
As a dual national I often asked myself if I had been a professional footballer, given the chance, would I have played for the US or Guatemala? It would have been really hard to decide, for starters I would had lived in Guatemala for 16 years before I made the move to the states and I would have to wait two years until I became a US Citizen. Perhaps at that age I would have chosen Guatemala, but I’ve always felt indebted to the US for giving me and my family and opportunity for a better future— this is where my heart is still today. The truth is I never became a professional footballer, part of it was I lacked the talent to be a true elite (with better discipline I perhaps could have been a squad player in MLS), but the reason I dropped out of chasing the dream were mainly due not being able to keep up with to pay-to-play payments and my coaches desire to playing “Americans.” It wasn’t explicit, but the coaches I came across seemed to be more interested in playing “true Americans” with power and pace than Hispanic-looking kids who could hold the ball and dribble a couple of players. Hispanic kids in the team were always told not to dribble, not to play square balls, in short creativity was shunned and American Football athleticism (benching 250lbs., 40-dash) expected.
During games, Hispanic kids were relegated to the bench and subbed on when necessary while more “American” looking kids got in the starting lineup for how they look or how much their parents paid in booster club fees. I overhead coaches a few times saying they wanted to help US Soccer by playing more “Americans,” but this meant shunning kids who while they might not fit your American archetype could contribute to US Soccer as well. And this is the crux or where we are today, I don’t think I am alone in this scenario and many players who were much better than me fell through the cracks as they saw their opportunities crippled by trying to advance a particular agenda.
I would have still chosen the USMNT over Guatemala though, because in the long run I understood it could open up better opportunities for my development going forward, certainly more than the Guatemalan federation who as of 2018 has been disavowed by FIFA. But what do you do when you have many kids of Mexican background who have had a similar experience as mine see an opportunity with a national team like Mexico? Now there is equal footing and a switch becomes more much appealing especially if you don’t feel appreciated as a footballer and a person. It becomes less about patriotism and more about personal development and emotional well-being.
Jonathan Gonzalez had played for all the US youth teams so far, but for one reason or another was not strongly pursued by MLS teams/academies and found himself with a great opportunity in Monterrey in 2014, even when his first professional start wasn’t until last year. There seems to be a desire in US Soccer circles to promote the image of the archetype “American” player who has a more “domestic” look and overlooking the strength of the USMNT to hinge on different nationalities— this is now the norm for top teams in the world, for example, Germany (players from Tunisia, Germany, Poland), Spain (Brazilians, Spaniards, French), France (French, Senegal, Algeria, DR Kongo) to name a few.
I also believe in Gonzalez’s case there is a massive federation problem when it comes to planning and organization, which leaned the scale towards Mexico. I’m not advocating for nationalizing players, but to take advantage of YOUTH players with dual nationalities (especially the players born in the US mainland with international heritages) or we risk alienating minorities who could eventually strenghten the national teams of Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador Honduras, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, etc.
Football is not a monolithic sport, national teams shouldn’t be either.