Gonzalez joined Monterrey in 2014 and last season, at age 18, helped Los Rayados win the Mexican Cup and finish Liga MX runner-up and he was named to the Liga MX Best XI. But this week Gonzalez, who had represented the USA on youth national teams U-14 through U-20, announced he was switching to the Mexican national team. Another young Californian who went to Mexico via Alianza, Pachuca's Edwin Lara -- among The Guardian's 2016 "60 of the Best Young Talents in World Football” -- played for Mexico at the 2015 U-17 World Cup after leaving the USA's U-17 program.
We spoke with Brad Rothenberg, who co-founded Alianza de Futbol in 2004 with Richard Copeland, about the Gonzalez decision, the USA's tug-of-war with Mexico for Mexican-American talent, and U.S. Soccer's relationship with the Latino community.
SOCCER AMERICA: You’ve known Jonathan and his family for five years. What was your reaction to him deciding to play for Mexico?
BRAD ROTHENBERG: I was not surprised even though, as I told his father, I was heartbroken. But the left side of my brain knew it was the best decision for him and so I’m glad he chose Mexico. Jonathan went to Monterrey bleeding red, white and blue.
When I saw Jonathan on New Year’s Eve, he was still undecided and that was only because he is truly a child of the USA. If it was only about futbol, his mind would have been made up long ago. He is appreciated in Mexico as evidenced by his success there. So I really am happy because I care only about player welfare. Alianza is a player-first program and, at its core, is fundamentally different than the system in place under U.S. Soccer.
SA: Many are blaming U.S. Soccer for letting him getaway. How much is it the fault of the Federation and its coaches?
BRAD ROTHENBERG: If anybody at U.S. Soccer thinks they did enough to keep Jonathan, then they should resign before the new Federation president fires them.
Our Federation lost Jonathan either by its own arrogance, apathy or incompetence. You pick it. We screwed up and I’m angry about it. I’ve grown tired of watching our federation neglect this community. We didn’t do enough, not nearly enough, to keep him. And the worst part is that it will continue if wholesale changes aren’t made in the approach to finding talent in this community.
The paucity of coaches employed by U.S. Soccer with an interest in Latino style of play is a problem. Tab Ramos isn’t enough. Bring back Hugo Perez. Jonathan wasn’t the first and will not be the last player lost to the national team until major shifts take place at the federation.
At the same time, where U.S. Soccer fell down, the FMF [Mexican federation] stepped up. This is about the people in Mexico who made him feel worthy and respected. I’ve know Dennis te Kloese [Director of Mexico national teams] for over a decade and he’s a genuine, honest and great guy who never gives up when he believes in something. When talking to Alonso and Mireya, Jonathan’s parents, it was clear that Dennis, [Mexico head coach] Juan Carlos Osorio, coaches and administrators at the FMF had shown Jonathan attention on a personal level that far exceeded the efforts of our Federation.
SA: What did you think about Thomas Rongen, who said he visited the Gonzalez household as U.S. Soccer’s Chief Scout, saying that, "his dad is so Mexican, that he wanted him to represent Mexico and I knew it was a losing battle, probably."
BRAD ROTHENBERG: I’ve known Thomas since I was 17 years old and he’s a great person, but that remark only speaks to how ill-suited the Federation is to connect with the millions of Latinos born and living here who could care much, much more about playing for the USA. I don’t think Thomas knows what “so Mexican” really means. I don’t. Does “so Mexican” mean caring about your son’s welfare, sacrificing for his success, respecting your wife, raising two boys to be happy, kind, thoughtful, hard-working, ethical, optimistic. Well, it sounds like the Gonzalez family is how we “American" families aspire to be.
Jonathan Gonzalez at Sueno Alianza 2013.
SA: You invite MLS, college coaches and U.S. Soccer coaches to Alianza events, but is it still predominantly the Liga MX coaches who show the most interest?
BRAD ROTHENBERG: The Mexican clubs helped prove the model. MLS clubs I think originally felt Alianza was a bridge to the Mexican clubs, and we are, but we've proven that we're equally a bridge to MLS clubs or other academies. We’re agnostic and care only about giving the players as much opportunity as possible.
Last year we had MLS clubs who never participated before and we had the mainstays like FC Dallas, which has been working with us for a long time and is one of the best academy clubs.
But … many of the Mexican club scouts and all the FMF scouts pay their own way to fly to the Alianza events week in and week out and I can’t get U.S. Soccer to commit to even sending local scouts each week. Hugo Perez, John Hackworth [U.S. U-17 coach] and Bob Bradley [former U.S. national team coach] were the only ones who ever expressed appreciation or interest in what we were doing.
The Federation has told us not to promote their brand to the 250,000 Latinos who attend our events and Tony Lepore [U.S. Soccer Director of Talent Identification] actually notified us in 2016 that they weren't interested in participating in Alianza since they haven’t found any elite players. On more than one occasion, U.S. Soccer scouts and coaches have secretly watched games hiding behind bleachers or our event inflatables but, when I asked, were unwilling to address our Alianza players directly for fear of endorsing an “unsanctioned” event.
SA: Do you think that the Mexican coaches have a greater appreciation for U.S. Latino talent than U.S. coaches?
BRAD ROTHENBERG: Yes. From talking to these [Mexican] coaches over the years, they see way more potential in these players than I think our coaches do. Jonathan Gonzalez is an example. While he was known by U.S. Soccer, his style and size may have hurt his chances with the narrow mindset of the current coaching staff. Mexico appreciates players like Jonathan and simply has a better system to give players like Jonathan opportunities.
The Mexican coaches see their talent, but they also see a certain level of discipline. Many of these kids who come here come are from families who have literally crossed borders, have overcome obstacles I've never seen before to give their family a better life.
And that ethos informs these kids who don't take anything for granted.
These kids are fighting for everything they get. The Mexican coaches see a certain level of fierceness. They also find that the Latino kids who are born and raised here are fitter and stronger than Mexico-raised players. And Mexican coaches say some of that has to do with their diet in the U.S.
SA: There’s also the style of play issue. Of U.S. Soccer’s nine national teams on the male side, there’s only one Hispanic head coach [Tab Ramos, U-20s]. And by my last count, only one of the 12 Technical Advisors, who are charged with scouting youth national team prospects, is Hispanic. That proportion doesn’t even match the overall demographic of the U.S. population. And U.S. Soccer imported three Dutchman for the key positions of U.S. Soccer Director of Coaching Education, Coaching Educator and U.S. Soccer Development Academy Director.
One could get the impression U.S. Soccer is not interested in a Latin style of play, despite its large Latino soccer-playing population and the international success of Latin-style soccer. Your thoughts?
BRAD ROTHENBERG: I think the Mexican coaches know what they’re looking for. They have a defined style of play. …
Technically, I couldn't analyze what a coach does or doesn't see. I leave that for soccer experts. I know, however, that the U.S. Soccer Federation is absolutely missing out on identifying talent because they aren’t expanding their definition of what good talent means. When any coach says we know all the talent out there and our performance at the top echelon of our national teams is erratic at best and just bad in some cases -- then either we should throw in the towel and accept status quo or truly expand what we are looking for.
I know culturally our Latino kids at Alianza feel no connection to U.S. Soccer or Major League Soccer, and that's borne out on surveys we've done.
It's a shame when you look at these surveys that the top league, the league they prefer to play for if they could, or watch on TV, is Liga MX, followed by La Liga -- Barcelona and Real Madrid -- followed closely by the English Premier League, and sometimes fourth or fifth, sometimes after the Bundesliga, is MLS, with a single-digit mindshare. This is from kids born and raised in the United States. And that’s simply because these kids have not been preached to or reached out to by the U.S. organizations.
Most of these kids would not recognize the U.S. Soccer logo.
SA: I do find it somewhat surprising that MLS comes in so low, it does have a good amount presence on Spanish-language TV.
BRAD ROTHENBERG: My instinct is the MLS's albatross is U.S. Soccer. I think if U.S. Soccer did more to ingratiate itself to this community, MLS would benefit.
I don't think the kids distinguish between MLS and U.S. Soccer. But I think MLS fortunes would rise in this community if the Federation was doing more to go into the these communities and find talent, and help these kids live their dreams, which U.S. Soccer should be doing for its own benefits anyway.
SA: Going way back to the 1990s, U.S. Soccer talked about bringing unaffiliated Latino leagues into the fold. Are you saying that has still not happened? How many of kids who show up to Alianza events play with unaffiliated leagues?
BRAD ROTHENBERG: At the very top, some may have been plucked into an affiliated club, but the vast majority of our kids are in unaffiliated leagues.
We had over 700 kids come to our L.A. tryout, and the overwhelming majority were unaffiliated. And 700 is a very small group for that area. There must be a couple million Latino boys under the age of 18 playing soccer within driving distance of that San Bernardino location.
If U.S. Soccer doesn’t care about the unaffiliated players, then it doesn't matter who the next U.S. Soccer president is, our destiny is fixed.
Alianza is a trusted brand in the Latino community. If U.S. Soccer came along with us, if the U.S. Soccer brand was coming with us into the community, our ability to find kids would be go up three-, to five-, to-10 fold. And even if we never found the next great player, the federation will be winning over families who, at present, think U.S. Soccer doesn’t care about them. We won't know until we try it.
SA: How much of a problem is pay-to-play?
BRAD ROTHENBERG: Pay-to-play doesn’t work in the Latino community we deal with, but it is not going away. Pay-to-play should not be an excuse for us not to do more with the Latino community.
Pay-to-play exists in other countries, too, it's just that the soccer governing bodies in those countries can afford to subsidize it -- and MLS does some of it already.
I think there's a lot more the Federation can do, once we have someone who wants to dedicate themselves to this community.
U.S. Soccer could bring training centers into the Latino communities tomorrow if they had the will, because they have the money.
Five years ago, Hugo Perez wanted to bring these training centers into more of the Latino communities, and he was able to do a few, but not nearly enough to meet the demand. He did not get enough support from U.S. Soccer.
[Editor’s Note: U.S. Hall of Famer Hugo Perez coached the U.S. U-14 and U-15 national teams that included Christian Pulisic, Jonathan Gonzalez, Weston McKennie, Haji Wright, Nick Taitague, Tyler Adams and Edwin Lara. He was let go as a youth national team coach in 2014 and shortly after as a U.S. Soccer Technical Advisor.]
SA: For sure, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, launched in 2007, has given more Latino players opportunities to play elite youth soccer than ever before ...
BRAD ROTHENBERG: It seems like the Development Academy clubs might be where to get the best coaching, but there aren't enough. We have seen incredibly talented boys from areas that aren’t close to an academy.
I don't know whether the Development Academy is the answer. Even if they scholarship players, their clubs are geographically out of reach for so many players.
U.S. Soccer needs to go to into these communities. Until U.S. Soccer shows these players the path, they won’t be able to take the steps.
Excellent work, Mike.
Everyone should read this article.
Great article and to the point. The fact is our National Team Programs at the younger ages are not interested in players with technical ability. This doesn't only apply to Latino's but to everyone. You look at MLS and see how they play and they are a mirror of our youth programs. Knock down and drag out. Let the bigest beast survive.
I can look at it in three ways or blend of all why we lost Jonathan Gonzalez. First of all, no one should be surprised that this happened or can happen when you take into account that we are the only soccer country that I know of where the USMNT playing at HOME in America! can feel like your playing away in a foreign country, BINGO! That should say enough! In other words, one of the problems we have is one of ASSIMILATION. Being Dutch and an immigrant myself, I've lived according to the statement, ' In Rome, you do as the Romans or go back to your own country". Many immigrants from basically third world type countries tend to stick together, tribally, and therefore continue much of their way of life of their old country from which they initially escaped because it didn't work out for them. As an immigrant the last thing I wanted to do is hang around my own kind in a foreign country, otherwise why bother leaving; instead I assimilated and left my culture/country which failed me, behind.
The second problem is that of soccer. The Los Angeles Times has a good interview with Hugo Perez. http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-usa-mexico-hernandez-20180109-story,amp.html. Perez states that Mexican soccer is better than US soccer and that Jonathan Gonzalez physical size and frame fits more the Mexican style of play. The US coaches judges players more on physical size and athletic prowess. Boy, if that is ever a truism. It was said Bergkamp would never have amounted to anything if he grew in Germany instead of Holland because it is there all about size, fight,speed...'Stampfen und Laufen fussball". Perhaps the US think tank of soccer looked at Gonzalez in that way. I don't know..
Here is something else to look at. More Mexican players have moved on to Europe and played for the best teams there ,unlike American players, and have become very successful...like at Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSV, Manchester Utd, Bayern,etc...This is perhaps also a reason for Jonathan's choice.
SEE NEXT POST
The third problem I see is that Mexico has a certain style of play and America doesn't. So it is easier to pick players you want to fit into a certain style of play like Mexico. Whereas in America coaches pick players not because of style but according DESCRIPTION..size ,speed, athleticism.....In other words STYLE vs DESCRIPTION. And as long as we don't have a style we'll continue having problems.
But regardless of Jonathan Gonzalez , I'm more upset at the raw deal Hugo Perez received. His criticisms were not well received by those who run soccer in the US. He is a big loss for US soccer.
And I still think the worse thing that has ever happened to US soccer is that the Germans and English have run, controlled and influenced US soccer here for so many years. I wish it would have been Holland ,Yugoslavia, Brazil, and Argentina that ran soccer here for we would not have had "STIFFS" we produce here as players.
In sum the Gonzalez situation should be seen beyond just the incompetence of the USSF, for that is nothing new.....
When I think of Jon's choice, I think of how USSF has treated Jose Torres. Before Klinsmann was hired, I was excited about the future of the USMNT's midfield. The opportunity I saw was squandered. Sadly the best midfield players never played together for various reasons, but partially because of the coach valuing "nasty" over skill.
Bob, who was the coach at that time that preferred, nasty over skill
He played some under Bradley, but was used out of position on the flank or as a playmaker. JK never called him up. That is from memory, so I may be forgetting something.
Well, there are German coaches and there are German coaches. The US seems to have ended up with the wrong ones. Looking at both the German MNT and the Bundesliga, one can see a very technical style of play, maybe not exactly Latino, but excellent. And the Bundesliga, unlike the EPL, does not absolutely depend on stars from other countries. Yes, there are some, but the homegrown German players are also very good, thank you.
As for the English coaches, what does it about the English style of play that the English good old boy coaches populae the lower-level EPL teams, whereas the top teams are all managed by foreigners. However, Mourhino, UGH!
Ben, It is not about Coaches but about STYLE which over the YEARS becomes part of the DNA of the country and it's culture. So to say there are German coaches and there are German coaches has nothing to do with it, for all these German coaches have something in common which is a certain type of thought, thinking-strategy about the game and manner of play which is reinforced and taught at the German Coaching Academy. So regardless of GOOD or BAD German coaches all German coaches have the same DNA about the game of soccer. And for many years the term to describe German soccer by their own coaches and players who were critical called it "STAMPEN UND LAUFEN".(in short stomping and running). Unfortunately, the US over the past 50 has been heavily influenced by the German style of play, likewise as it has with the English. Both these countries have one in thing in common, their aversion to fancy, creative players. Both countries are fighters which is part of their game. This is why Hitler stated that the one country he didn't like to fight against is England "for they are so like us". Both countries had a history of being 'hard-nosed", "stiff upper lip' and the masses came out of the coal mines. Both have the mentality of rolling up the sleeves, take out the dentures and put the BenGay on...
Up until the early 2000's the German passing was not so concerned about the accuracy of the pass which could cause a 50/50 situation for they don't mind the fight. SEE NEXT POST
BEN, the Dutch are so unlike these two countries for they don't display the "fight' in their game, for
Dutch players are not build for fighting. In order to survive, the Dutch had to play a smart and creative game, which at its pinnacle is represented by Johan Cruyff. So let us look at one technical aspect, for example, that is differently taught in Dutch soccer as compared to the other two, the PASS. The Dutch can't afford passes that can result into possible 50/50 situation for that possibly means fighting, duels, wasting energy....Just look at Johan Cruyff's body build, he wouldn't survive long. So Dutch passes made are at premium, which, for example at AJAX, you will be yelled at, on the following things if wrong; speed of the pass, the timing of the pass, the pass should be made to the far foot away from the opponent, pass should be made to receiver facing downfield, pass made on the run ahead of the receiver for tempo, making the pass in a manner the receiver requires fewest touches, etc. I don't want to go any further in to more details for that involves positioning for the pass in relation the keep the tempo and other aspects....blah ,blah... In sum ,the Dutch requires so much more THINKING before carrying out an action to avoid "THE FIGHT", making dutch much smarter players. That resulted in dutch players having a reputation to German and English coaches of always questioning the coach on strategy. The dutch won't follow a coach unless he is smart and can prove his strategy point by point. German, Spanish, and English players follow what the coach says for he is boss. This is why the Knute Rockne types would be laughed at by Dutch players. In the Cruyff years with the Washington Diplomats, when Gordon Bradley was coach, Cruyff was so upset at the lack of deeper knowledge of Bradley's tactical discussion, Cruyff ,erased Bradley's tactical strategy and wrote the 4-3-3 system and stated this is how we'll play. The Germans finally realized in 2006, regardless of how successful they were in the past, they had to change their Neanderthal approach to their game and copy the Dutch more efficient and smarter style of play; This is why they brought in Van Gaal and later Guardiola, both who were brought by the Dutch (Cruyff school) to make those changes.
Wow! I’ve feared for many years this is the approach and mindset of US Soccer. This just confirms some if not most of those fears! No true American Soccer person can read this and not feel physically ill! We have to band together and get rid of the clueless “leadership”! Wholesale reform has to happen or were done!
Good article, however, this same coverage could have, should have been done many years ago. No surprise to me at all. There’s only one particular silver lining from missing out on Russia, a real change-paradigm shift
st the USSF. In looking at the voting-delegate blocks, I’d be shocked if it isn’t more of the same. Those holding the votes have a vested interest in more of the same.
This is an unusually straight forward assessment and an indightment of US Soccer. As a long time cycling fan, steeped in all the nastiness that makes up the sport of cycling, I'm am beginning to wonder if in fact US Soccer could be worse run than USA Cycling. Thank you for this interview / article. US Soccer seems very east coast and especially New Jersey centric, with the exception of Ramos who comes across as humble and dedicated to the kiddos, when I read quotes from US Soccer persons, I am left feeling that they are part of an elitist soccer community that has little or no understanding of latino community or latino soccer. The nation as a whole faces many challenges on the immigration front. Soccer, can and should be a channel that brings us together, rather than separates us.
"his dad is so Mexican, that he wanted him to represent Mexico and I knew it was a losing battle, probably.
This only points out how feeble the current personnel are in navigating immigrant communities. So diversity is good for corportations, but not USSF? I wouldn't be surprised if this was a personal thing, seeing how Hugo was so involved previously. Rongen probably felt obligated to flush anything Hugo did, just to cover up the tracks.
WOW , The US is the doing excellent in the organizational department," U.S. Soccer imported three Dutchman for the key positions of U.S. Soccer Director of Coaching Education, Coaching Educator and U.S. Soccer Development Academy Director.
Now I know we're in good hands,more professors, classroom , 'egghead' types with coaching licenses who have difficulty taking on a lamppost one on one. What an impressive lineup, COACHING EDUCATORS!! Hopefully, we'll raise the coaching education license to a Phd level. We're not only going to win the next WC but also the WC of our solar system held on Mars....
You go Frank!! Haven't seen you for a while. Happy New Year!
HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU TOO ,FAN...
First, very heartfelt CONGRATULATIONS TO JONATHAN for achieving your dream, nd second, thank you Mike Woitalla for finally penning this article, lastly hey Brad, long time no see!
I am not at all surprised that this has finally come to pass, not only is a Mexican American player gets lots and lots of ink, plus tv time for having been selected through the Alianza processes. However, at the same time I am saddned at the delusions voiced by some comments hereon above, as well as the myopic and xenophobic sentiments voiced by the current interim MNT coach Sarachan, and then Rongen. Sorry Hugo Perez, but you're not too far behind these guys. I say this doesn't come as any glaring surprise but late in coming simply and because I've been talking about this myopic US Soccer viewpoint for the past forty years, when I wrote an article for FUTBOL SOCCER NEWS a spanish language soccer journal published in the Los Angeles area (Mike I am sending you and Paul a copy.) that article addressed the issue then that US Soccer was not keeping its word for additional and more inclusion of Latino or Mexican talent into the then NASL (cf: Futbol Soccer News, June 1977) and several more other articles - if anyone wants to access them, drop me a line through this source) And with the National Convention of United Soccer Coaches in a few days, I wonder if this topic will continue to get "front page coverage" as I won't be able to attend, or if the topic will be relegated to the back pages of the association's records. If it IS part of the overall discussion, that 's is great, however, I fear that it may just end up as one of those attention grabbing spots and is not heard from again - days, weeks, months, years? - as has been the wont of the US Soccer community and its treatment of players from the Latino communities.
Finally I agree with Rothenberg's assessment of apathy, ignorance or incompetence, mi amigo, it was/is a combination of all three put together, something that has become a sore and cancerous sore in within US Soccer. More on this later!
I read your interesting response, but am puzzled by this: "sorry Hugo Perez, but you're not too far behind these guys". What do you mean by that?
R2D2: What I means is that while Hugo Perez was the then "supposed" answer to most of what ails US soccer, he, the new futbolero messiah, it was, by his own admission penned in this journals some months ago, that his speaking out on the very issue with US Soccer honchos, didn't go over too well with them, and thus IMHO, he's retreated and hasn't been as vocal as perhaps some of us in the trenches would want him to be. Please don't get me wrong, but the mere written fact that he was quoted also, IMO he fell almost in lockstep with the two others. Hope this explains... if not send me a note via SA. Ric
"The paucity of coaches employed by U.S. Soccer with an interest in Latino style of play is a problem." This gets right to the heart of the problem with US Soccer. The Latino style of play is technical, and US coaches at all levels seem to favor big bodies and fast bodies.
"My instinct is the MLS's albatross is U.S. Soccer." Likewise, US Soccer's albatross is MLS, with its poor technical play resulting not very good tactical play, either.
Ben, here I can agree on some of what you are saying. I want to see GOOD soccer regardless of what style. As a matter of fact the hispanic style in the past 30years has tended to move more toward the European style, team play, of what Barcelona has done. What I mean by latin style is not so much the style itself but when talking about youth development I mean stressing individuality of play, which is more of a Latin flavor than one of European. I want the kids to be very creative with the ball and should be allowed the necessary room to develop that. Now is it effective or functional ,NO, if you are thinking professional soccer for then it is not about frivolity but functionality. But with the youth it is all about improving and increasing the capabilities. Having the ability to do those things which takes time, duplication which you don't have in PRO soccer. A good example is the movie KARATE KID, where the kid kept practicing the up and down motion thousands of times and began to question the functionality and effectiveness and it didn't look like Karate to him. In pro soccer ,like Cruyff states, you cut out the frivolity, but in youth soccer you allow the frivolity to learn all of the capabilies.
The problem with our youth development is that we have SKIPPED the CREATIVE element that is done through FRIVOLITY which is a necessary part. But UNFORTUNATELY the coaches have had the cold German and English influence that is not conducive to individuality and frivolity
Ben, I need to correct something you said: not "US coaches at all level", but rather some "USSF coaches." There are huge numbers of unaffiliated players and coaches. I played for over 60 years without playing in a USSF sanctioned match. The problem is, like in academia, USSF surpresses controversy and contrary views. At one time scientists could be burned at the stake for arguing that the world wasn't flat. Suppression of contrary views is a sign of weakness in organziations.