Former Mexico star González on career fortunes, covering MLS, more

ESPN’s Monica Gonzalez

In Spring 2011, Mónica González trained hard and looked forward to playing in the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany later that summer.

As a founding member of the Mexico Women’s National Soccer team since 1998 — and its captain from 2003-07 — it was only natural for her to expect the call to once again represent her country.

But three weeks before kickoff, González was cut from the team.

On the heels of this disappointment, ESPN offered her a contract to join its commentary team for the World Cup.

“What really impressed me about Mónica during our first conversation was, here is a woman who has just been cut from her national team right before the World Cup, and the very first words out of her mouth were regarding how she could make a positive out of a negative,” said Amy Rosenfeld, ESPN coordinating producer for soccer.

Since making her debut last summer, González has become ESPN’s primary sideline reporter for Major League Soccer, a studio and game analyst for the Longhorn Network, and a contributor to espnW.

Entering her first MLS All-Star Game as a television reporter on Wednesday, July 25 (on ESPN and ESPN3 at 8:30 p.m. ET), Front Row caught up with González. The Mexico City resident discusses her transition to TV and her experiences as a pioneer women’s footballer in Mexico.

Was it difficult to make the transition from playing to being a member of the media?
On one horrible day, I got cut from the Mexican National Team only a week before I was to leave to represent Mexico in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Two days later, I was hired by ESPN to be an analyst, providing insight on the very team that cut me. Being an athlete is a tough, physical, emotional and mental battle but my new TV role was one of my greatest challenges. How do you restore your confidence in yourself to be the “expert” in something you were apparently not good enough to do three days prior? We live life through our own lens, so I focused on the positives, listened to and trusted the people who believed in me and wanted me on their team. The truth was that I had just hit the jackpot. One year in, I am still very grateful and I try to improve just a little bit from one game to the next – just like when I was a player.

How are you enjoying this new role as a soccer sideline reporter and analyst?
I joke that being a sideline reporter feels like I am a weathercaster. I’ve always admired reporters for their ability to retain info and then spit it out in such orderly fashion while on live TV. It’s been a process for me to figure out that sideline reporters are best when they are themselves. I’ve been given great advice by my ESPN producers that ‘I’m there to serve the viewers.’ When I think of it as ‘I’m trying to get the folks watching at home something to make their experience more entertaining or educational,’ then it is easier for me. As for sitting in the studio or calling games, that has come a bit more natural. It’s all been a great adventure. Everyone I’ve worked with so far is pure class and they all want to see you succeed.

Can you discuss your experience helping build the Mexico Women’s Soccer National Team?
Progress, not perfection, had become my motto. My biggest lesson over the last 12 years is that every country is different and culture impacts everything and everyone. So, my first six years were spent trying to do things the way they did in the United States. I banged my head against a wall, offended a lot of people and didn’t help anyone make much progress. But soccer is everything in Mexico and the media follow and support the women. Unfortunately, with other issues dominating public discourse in the country, civil rights and equity in sports are pushed to the back. In time, I expect another way that will take the Mexican Women’s National Team to the top one day — ironically, it is called ‘culture.’”

How did being a pioneer in women’s soccer in Mexico impact your post-professional career?
Though I work MLS games, I still reside in Mexico City. This is partly because I feel like there is a field of dreams waiting to be built there. I began a non-profit soccer academy (Gonzo Soccer — www.gonzosoccer.org) in Chicago in 2009 so inner city girls can train with elite female coaches for free and get some life-skills and leadership training. The academy has taken a life of its own. I went there every week thinking ‘I can’t wait to do this in Mexico.’ There is a lot of demand for girls to play in Mexico, but not a lot of opportunity. Some of the pioneers that were on the Mexico team from the beginning with me, such as Iris Mora, have the same goal and are coaching in Mexico today. I am honored that with my dual citizenship, I am engaged in growing the sport at all levels in two different countries.