From The Sidelines: An exclusive Q&A with ESPN's Monica Gonzalez

ESPN soccer analyst Monica Gonzalez says Thorns have set the bar high for women's soccer

Mónica González, is currently a soccer commentator and sideline reporter for ESPN. González was a founding member in 1998 of the Mexican Women’s National team and helped lead the team to the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup. She captained the team from 2003 – 2007.

A former All-America and Academic All-America player at Notre Dame University who helped lead the Fighting Irish to three NCAA final four appearances, González was the 11th overall pick in the 2002 WUSA draft by the Boston Breakers.  She played two seasons of professional soccer with the Breakers, earning 2003 WUSA All-Star honors.

She sat down with us to discuss the first season of the NWSL, the impact of the Thorns and the future of women’s soccer.  

What do you see as the biggest impact the NWSL has had on women’s soccer this year? 
Monica Gonzalez: Having professional soccer gives girls the ability to have dreams. I remember being 10 and I used to tell my mom that I wanted to be a pro soccer player and she would tell me, “I am sorry, you have to pick something else because that doesn’t exist.”* I would tell her that I wanted to play soccer in the Olympics, and again she would say, I am sorry you have to pick something else, that doesn’t exist**. Having a pro league shows these girls that they can dream of playing soccer for a living, and not just have it be an extracurricular activity.

As someone who’s played for a national team, why is having a full league so important for player development?
MG: Having the ability to watch games is key. It is up to the coaches, but I believe they should take their youth girl’s teams to go watch games live. When you are at a stadium, you can watch the left back if you are a left back, [or any position for that matter] and see what she does when she is on the other side of the field -- that is actually one of the best teaching methods. We need more youth to go watch soccer as it helps these girls develop.

I remember my coach would do that and take us to watch MLS. I grew up in Dallas and remember seeing Jason Kreis in Dallas his rookie year and I remember coming back from those games and thinking “I have so much stuff I have to work on!” It’s the best teaching method there is. Plus, games are also easily available on YouTube and throughout the internet for young girls to watch. That said, there still isn’t anything better than going to the stadium, getting that autograph and meeting the player. It inspires you for weeks afterwards and that helps players develop.

What’s been your impression of the impact the Thorns have had on Portland?
​MG: They have broken through the barrier of what people thought women’s soccer professional soccer was capable of. No one ever imagined that they would average over 12,000 fans per game. We weren’t getting those numbers in the WUSA. I think people knew that this team would draw well because of the connection to the Timbers, because of the local support, and because of Alex Morgan and the other high profile players, but I don’t think anybody thought that it was going to be as impactful as it was this first season. Just to set that as a bar and say “we thought the limit was here, but then move it up here”… that’s what the Thorns have done.

What is it about Portland that makes it so soccer mad be it for the Thorns or the Timbers?
​MG: Portland is a really cool city. You look around and you see a little bit of everyone; plus you see a lot of young people. I was just driving around city and like 20 blocks away, I saw a bunch of people walking around with Timbers gear. All the bars seem to have Timbers stuff up in the windows. Everyone that lives here is proud to be here because it is one of the coolest cities in the country. Having a PTFC franchise with all the cool traditions and elements like Timber Joey, authentic food stands/carts -- all of it together is a really good combination, plus the stadium is easy to get to. All the ingredients are there.

Ever think of coming out of retirement and lacing ‘em up for the NWSL?
​MG: I tried to get in the last time and I wasn’t able to make it. I think my old legs have had enough and I am pretty lucky to have the job that I have now. I delayed getting a real job for the last few years of my career -- trying to play pro and playing for the Mexican national team. My parents were like “you have a degree from Notre Dame, when are you going to get a real job?” I was fortunate enough to wait until after I turned 30 to get a ‘real job’ and this doesn’t even really count as a real job, as it is awesome. My job is talking to soccer people, standing on the sideline and asking a couple questions so I am good to go. I’ll help the game in any way possible.

Where do you see women’s soccer going between now and the next Women’s World Cup?
​MG: Well, I think there has been more interest to have professional teams in other cities, and I think having U.S. Soccer involved has made a big difference for the NWSL. Having them as such a key supporter, and providing resources throughout the league has really helped.

From now until the World Cup, each team has to focus on how they can better, in all aspects of the organization, both on and off the field. They got that first season under their belt, now, work to try and bring in more quality players, maybe foreign players that were tempted to come in at the beginning might come over this second year. And having other MLS teams, like Houston, or even those in other cities, take an interest in trying to match up with a NWSL team would be valuable, especially since it worked so well here in Portland.

* The first professional women’s soccer league (WUSA) was founded in 2001.
** Women’s soccer wasn’t added as an Olympic sport until 1996