Everyday this month, Double G Sports will be featuring interviews from prominent women in the sports industry as our way of celebrating Women’s History Month. This project is in its 2nd year. Today’s interview is with former Mexican International Team Captain and current ESPN soccer analyst, Monica Gonzalez.
1. When was the first time you kicked around a soccer ball? How soon after that did you realize you wanted to make it your career?
To be honest, I don’t remember starting to play soccer. I think I had a ball at my feet since before I could walk. My Dad loved soccer and my brothers always had a ball in the backyard playing. But, as for formally on a team, I was 4 years old when I started playing. My dad actually lied about my age so I could play on a U5 boy’s team. I was like 8 weeks away from turning 5, so I played on a U5 boys team. I played with boys until I was 10.
2. You are a founding member of Mexico’s Women’s International Team. How did the team come to fruition and what was your involvement?
I got called when I was a freshman at Notre Dame playing my college soccer. I got called into my coach’s office and he told me that someone form Mexico’s International Team had called him. He explained that they had wanted a junior on our team to be on the National. My coach told them that I was on the team and that I may be of Mexican ethnicity. So, when I was called into his office I told him about my heritage and he said they were having tryouts for the team. I said I didn’t know there was a team. He told me that there wasn’t a team but that they were forming one.
So, I went out to the tryouts in California from school my freshman year. I wasn’t convinced that I wanted to play at that tryout. I knew that if I had played for Mexico I would have to play for them forever. Growing up, I had the Foudy and Overbeck and Hamm pictures on my wall, so my goal was always to play at the highest level for the National Team. So, it took me a while to decide that I wanted to represent Mexico, having grown up idolizing U.S. players. I actually tore my ACL shortly after that initial tryout in California, so I had 8 months of recovery to think about which country I wanted to work to represent.
3. Where does that experience rank on your list of career accomplishments? Is there anything else that brings you more pride?
Well, technically the team I tried out for was not the first National Team for Mexico. They had a team in ‘70’s. But, playing in Mexico’s first World Cup in 1999 and seeing where the team came from has been amazing. When I started playing we didn’t even have practice jerseys and we played in fields with cows in the distance. So, seeing how the team has grown, as well as the interest level throughout the country is special.
4. What was the most difficult loss of your career, and as a professional athlete how do you overcome it?
It was a loss to Japan in 2007. Because we failed to qualify for the World Cup in the CONCACAF Tournament we had to do a home and away series with Japan, which was a 3-month commitment. I had recently started law school, so I had to actually drop out of law school to commit to training with the National Team. On top of that we were having coach and player issues, that as captain I couldn’t resolve, which was hard for me to deal with as well. So, we ended up losing 2-0 in Japan and then couldn’t make up the deficit for the game in Mexico.
5. What was the greatest triumph of your playing career?
When we beat Canada to qualify for 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Those were the only Olympic Games that we had qualified for in Women’s Soccer. I always wanted to be an Olympian because my Dad played in the 1972 Games in Munich. I remember telling my Mom while I was growing up that I wanted to play soccer in the Olympics and she would tell me that I couldn’t because Women’s Soccer wasn’t in the Olympics. So, playing in the Olympic Games was a huge accomplishment for me on a number of levels.
6. Tell us about your girl’s leadership academy Gonzo Soccer. How did it get its start? What is its mission? How does it keep you inspired?
It started by accident. I had moved to Chicago to play professionally for the Red Stars and didn’t make the team. Playing for Mexico we failed to qualify for the 2007 World Cup and the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, so I went to Chicago to try out. When I didn’t make the team I was out of a job and had no income, and remembered that there was a large Hispanic community in the city. I decided that the quickest way for me to make money was to hold soccer clinics for kids within the Hispanic community.
After I held my first clinic, the facility that let me host them called me and said that the girls who participated in the clinic were asking when I was coming back. So, I told them that if they let me use the facility for free, I would come back every Monday and host a clinic. From that point on it kept growing and I eventually used the money I made to hire other coaches to help. Teaching those girls became the highlight of my week. Essentially, those girls saved me. I remember thinking that as my career was slowing down; it didn’t mean I couldn’t help them get their careers going.
The first year of getting Gonzo Soccer up and running was a lot of work. I went to Barnes & Noble and bought three grant-writing books, and worked five days a week doing work and learning to write grants. Now that it is a few years later I put in about 15 hours total a week sending out drills and such to the coaches who run the clinics which are now located in not only Chicago, but Texas and Mexico. A new clinic in Torreon, Mexico is actually starting up in about a month.
7. What new perspective has working as an analyst/reporter for ESPN given you of the game?
I think that it has definitely humbled me. I kind of had a chip on my shoulder against men’s teams because they got paid very well throughout their careers, and we as women did not. Especially, after dedicating my entire career to my National Team. I just resented it all a bit and thought that they didn’t fully appreciate that they could train to be professionals and be comfortable while doing it. But, having the opportunity to cover them for ESPN, you know, I’d be the only person at MLS practices or a USMNT training session just watching. The more I’ve learned from Jurgen Klinsmann especially about how he runs things and what he’s trying to do, the more my eyes have been opened and I’ve been humbled.
8. What international players get you most excited about the future of the Women’s Game?
The Germans have so many great players. Their league is so awesome. They’ve been treating their women with so much respect or so many years. Dzenifer Marozsan is one of those great young players. And, as well that have gotten their National Team players to turn around and become coaches soon after retiring from playing, which I think has helped.
9. How important to the future of Women’s Soccer is the success and longevity of the recently launched NSWL?
I think it is really important to have a league. It makes me excited that U.S. Soccer has stepped up in using their resources to get it going. But, I have to be honest; I am not a huge optimist. I think that the people in the front office need to make this a full on professional league. I think players can’t come in and expect perks for the first couple years. They need to play in small stadiums, not huge stadiums and really build up a fan base at a local level, understanding that it is a business and that it is going to take a while to grow into something bigger.
10. What can we all do, large or small, to ensure that the Women’s Game continues to grow?
I think that anyone who plays should realize that if they want to grow up and be a professional soccer player in the U.S. they need to get their parents and go out and support the league. Coaches need to make supporting the league a priority as well, taking their team to a game regularly. We all need to go out and support.