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For club or country? Monterrey blocking Jonathan Gonzalez from a World Cup wasn’t the right decision

The 20-year-old made headlines last year by switching from representing the U.S. to his parents’ native Mexico internationally. But now, his club team is blocking his chance to play in a World Cup

Made by Antonio Tinajero | Original Image by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images
Getty Images

What’s more important: your club or your country? It’s one of the many questions concerning ‘the beautiful game’ that are up for debate. Do you pledge more allegiance to the club that pays your wages or to the country you choose to represent on the world’s stage?

For Monterrey’s Jonathan Gonzalez, it seems that decision has been made for him. On Friday, it was reported that Rayados and head coach Diego Alonso are blocking Gonzalez from taking part in the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup representing Mexico. He wasn’t allowed to be called up, with Monterrey citing that they needed a full team for the upcoming Liga MX playoffs.

The U-20 World Cup kicks off in Poland for Mexico on May 20, the same week as the Liga MX finals.

The northern team is currently in third place on the Liga MX table and virtually clinched a spot in the liguilla thanks to a 1-0 win over Veracruz on Friday. They’re far from struggling, yet Rayados thought it was best to keep their team depth at the deepest possible as they look to win a fifth league title.

Per FIFA rules, Monterrey aren’t breaking any. Unlike clubs keeping players from senior national teams, it’s not against regulations to keep players from youth tournaments.

The problem here is that this decision doesn’t make much sense at first glance. If this was concerning a star player that racks up good performances day in and day out, then Monterrey has a bit of a case. A player like Carlos Rodriguez, for example, who has over 1,000 league minutes played this season with 12 starts, would seem reasonable for Monterrey to keep if he was under the age of 20.

It’s due to Monterrey’s bloated midfield, though, plus the unfortunate injuries that have plagued the 20-year-old Gonzalez since last season, that he hasn’t had much of an influence on the first team since his first year for the club back in 2017. Gonzalez has scraped just 376 minutes of playing time this season and made just four starting lineups. He’s been mostly used in the CONCACAF Champions League, starting five times but didn’t record an official stat as Monterrey cruised to the final. It doesn’t sound like he’s crucial to Diego Alonso’s lineup, at least not for this season.

Gonzalez is currently nursing a bicep injury he suffered during Jornada 13 against Toluca and is expected to be back within the next week. It’s possible the young mid will play against Necaxa next week, as Alonso will most likely repeat an alternate lineup to rest his stars for the second leg of the Champions League final. After that, it’s difficult to see Gonzalez playing significant minutes looking at how the regular season has gone.

But the ultimate loser here is Diego Ramirez’s team. The U-20 side, who were runners-up in the 2018 CONCACAF championships, almost lost out on 18-year-old wunderkind Diego Lainez, who could’ve been selected for the senior squad to play the 2019 Gold Cup before national team coach Gerardo Martino confirmed he will be heading to Poland.

That was the right decision from Tata. In the end, Lainez still wouldn’t have been ahead of several other senior national team veterans, and his qualities would help Ramirez’s side much more than Tata’s. Gonzalez, due to his limited playing time, is unlikely to be considered for the Gold Cup squad, but he still won’t go to Poland, despite being the clear second star to Lainez.

The U-20 Mexican midfield is by far the least deep on the roster and Gonzalez’s inclusion would have bolstered the team by adding a clear-cut holding mid with good ball handling, great defensive instincts, a high IQ and is overall the perfect link between Mexico’s solid defenders and its prolific forwards, namely Lainez and Leon’s Jose Juan Macias.

Monterrey v Sporting KC - CONCACAF Champions League 2019
Gonzalez started in all group stage matches plus the semifinal in the 2018 Toulon Tournament for Mexico’s U-21 side. He missed the final against England due to an injury.
Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images

The toughest part of this situation concerns Gonzalez’s past. It’s been a little more than a year since Gonzalez had two federations pawing over him and had USMNT fans criticizing the state of the United States’ scouting and recruiting processes. Gonzalez, born in California to Mexican parents, represented the United States at the U-17, U-18, and U-20 levels before very publicly switching to play for arch-rivals Mexico. He’s since made two senior caps for the El Tri side. The story was the talk of CONCACAF soccer for months. It was a huge decision for him to make, and he chose Mexico, but now, thanks to his club, he won’t be able to play for his chosen nation at the biggest international tournament in his young career.

Debates like these are never one-sided. Monterrey fans will point to the fact that the team’s options at Gonzalez’s natural position are slim. After Paraguayan international Celso Ortiz, there are no other first-team replacements Rayados can use at holding mid. A hypothetical injury to Ortiz coupled with Gonzalez out on international duty could prove difficult for Monterrey to mend that hole.

It’s not like Monterrey didn’t have reasons to back up its decision, but it was the wrong one. Gonzalez chose to play for his parent’s country, he’s had a tough break getting into lineups, struggled with injuries, and Tata’s El Tri is out of reach at this point in time. Gonzalez just turned 20 this year: he’s right under the age requirement for this World Cup. This is HIS age group, HIS team, HIS tournament. Forbidding him to go to stay on a bench is depriving him of valuable experience and potential European suitors.

The biggest crime of this whole mess? We won’t be able to see this at an official FIFA tournament this summer:

It’s been a few months since we’ve seen this Gonzalez, so it’s easy to forget just how damn good he is. Italy, Japan and Ecuador just breathed a sigh of relief and Mexico’s chances in Poland just went down.

Poll

What do you think of Monterrey’s decision to block Jonathan Gonzalez from a U-20 World Cup call-up?

This poll is closed

  • 73%
    It’s a bad decision. Let the kid go
    (74 votes)
  • 14%
    It’s a good decision. Team comes first!
    (15 votes)
  • 11%
    Doesn’t matter to me, man
    (12 votes)
101 votes total Vote Now

You can follow Antonio on Twitter @antonio1998__