ESPN’s Mónica González was one of a clutch of players who broke new ground with the women’s game in Mexico, and just as the former national team captain came to negotiate those challenges in time, she has taken to her post-playing career on screen with a similar air of assurance.
Although raised in Texas, Mónica was to be amongst the prime movers in the growth of Mexican women’s football as she went on to captain the team of her heritage. Many opportunities and obstacles would present themselves along the way, but the path for Mónica has eventually led to her role as a reporter and analyst for ESPN, and it is something she has truly grasped.
She is someone who believes that learning and improving offer far more possibilities than the largely impossible quest to do things perfectly, and as we firstly discussed the site’s theme of music and how it has impacted upon her career and life, it became clear that there were some hidden parallels.
Back in 1998, the Mexican women’s national team was in its infancy and Mónica was asked to represent the nation despite having previously set her sights on playing for the U.S. at senior level. Although naturally there were thoughts that led to her doubting whether it was the right voyage to pursue, with her inability to communicate in Spanish at that time, Mónica was ultimately drawn to the opportunity. The chance to feature in the 1999 World Cup was a huge attraction but beyond that she recognised the incredible possibility for the women’s game in Mexico, even if it was somewhat buried away to say the least at that point.
Mónica discusses the significance of music to her background and formative years, and even though I am only 22 and come from the North West of England, the reference she makes to Mr. ‘All My Ex’s Live In Texas’ is not lost on me!
“I was born in Corpus Christi and moved to Dallas at age 10. My paternal grandmother used to throw big parties when I was really young and have mariachis, so I now have an aversion to mariachi music.
“Also, being from Texas, the rest of the fam had country music on all the time, so I also have an aversion to country. I am still burnt out, although George Strait never gets old.’’
There was so much adaptation involved in Mónica’s decision to play for Mexico, both from a career and life viewpoint, and this also extended to the musical side of matters in the build-up to the team’s games. As is something of a theme in Mónica’s story, however, it would turn out to be an enriching experience with an impact on her that she recognises to this day.
“Quite frankly it took me a while to adjust, because no way were they going to let the ‘gringas’ take control of the radio. I had to deal with a genre of Spanish music called banda, and another called rancheros that I hope you never have to listen to for more than a few short seconds!
“But I am thankful to those girls because my time in Mexico introduced me to Mexican pop, or ‘pop en Español’, which I love. It’s cheeseball Spanish music but I love it.
“My favourite Mexican pop artists are Reik, Paty Cantú and Jaime Kohen. Even when I lived in Chicago for a short stint in 2009 and 2010 all I listened to were the Spanish stations.’’
The subject of how music would be used in team preparation for competitive games during Mónica’s playing career led to her latterly recalling her time at the University of Notre Dame, where she was a standout player for the Fighting Irish soccer team.
“Music is always an important part; there is always a song or two of the moment. The girls in charge – on Mexico it was never really me – knew when the right time to play the song was.
“Somehow I always ended up being the one dancing on the chairs, even back when I was in college. Actually, at Notre Dame I was the one that made the warm-up tape every year except my freshman year.
“I was also a DJ at the senior bar so I thought that gave me the right to pick our warm-up music. Two songs I remember that made it in back-to-back years were Prince’s ‘7’ and New Radicals’ ‘Mother We Just Can’t Get Enough’ – I was proud of those tapes.’’
Having delved into her Notre Dame nostalgia, Mónica shared some of the music that she identifies with the most at present. While discussing this, she also made a point regarding Mexico’s liking for a certain genre, and it reminded me of a past interviewee on here who shared that sentiment with me last May – the recently-retired Chicago Fire midfielder Pável Pardo, Mexico’s second all-time most-capped player.
“Lately I’ve been going to see a lot of DJs in Mexico. Electronic music is very popular there – they tend to follow what’s big in Europe more so than the U.S. – my last show was Above & Beyond.
“I tend to get sick of songs easily so there are very few that have passed the test of time with me. My favourite band has been Phish since the first time I heard them in college, about 15 years ago… yikes!
“But I’m not your typical ‘Phish-head’, I’ve only been to two shows ever. I do love live music and jam bands like O.A.R. and if I had to pick a favourite song of all-time it would be O.A.R.’s ‘That Was a Crazy Game of Poker’.
“I’ve probably listened to it more than any other song ever – never seems to get old. The lyrics aren’t exactly happy ones but every time I hear ‘how ‘bout a revolution?’ I get fired up.
“My favourite all-time artist and person I’ve seen most in concert is Stevie Nicks. The latest songs on my iPod are by Chromeo, Jimmy Edgar and Avicii.’’
I have said previously on here how some of this site’s interviewees have interesting points to make about music whereas others go beyond that and display a genuine, heartfelt affection for it in so many different ways. Mónica is certainly one of the latter, and the question of the first record she had or bought got that nostalgia swirling once more!
“When I was growing up in the 80s it was the era of cassette tapes. The ones I remember having were Michael Jackson, Madonna’s ‘True Blue’ and a Go West ‘King of Wishful Thinking’ tape that was blue!
“I used to put Michael Jackson’s ‘Dangerous’ tape in and dance all around my room in my shiny black shoes. Remember when those were trendy?’’
Although singing in front of teammates as a new signing at a club is now generally a tradition for players here in England, it has not quite made it to everywhere in the footballing world. This topic elicited a pretty candid response from Mónica!
“No one, and I mean no one, would want to hear me sing. I was more of the dancing Darla.’’
Mónica was captain of the Mexican national team for four years from 2003 onwards and she played in a range of positions at international level, including midfield, centre-back, sweeper and full-back. As well as the 1999 World Cup, she led the team in the 2004 Olympics in Athens and it can truly be said that she has worked tirelessly to raise the profile of the women’s game in Mexico.
She was of course one of the first figures to make a mark in the nation’s female footballing society and she gave me her view on the current state of play in this respect.
“When I took Spanish class in middle school they taught us the word ‘machismo’ to describe the Latin culture and I think sometimes that word gets misrepresented. In my experience, the only way machismo has come into play with women’s soccer is that sometimes parents don’t want their daughters to play soccer because they might get hurt.
“It’s discriminatory only in an overprotective sort of way, like parents just need to realise that their daughters are strong enough to run outside in the rain and get knocked around a little bit. Truthfully, since playing for Mexico I have always been very optimistic because of the support of fans and the media and the general passion for soccer at all levels.
“That is something very special and honestly something that Mexico women’s team administrators don’t take enough advantage of. For instance, this past year, the U.S. women played about 15 games in the States – Mexico didn’t play one in their own country.
“That is part of growing the game and when you have support of fans and the media it should be a no-brainer. The ‘Tri Femenil’ (women’s national team) is adored in Mexico – fans just never get a chance to watch them play.
“Today, there is more talent than ever; I’ve always said the sky is the limit with women’s soccer in Mexico. The resources are there, the federation supports us fully and so do the fans.
“I have never once read a negative article in the press or heard a discriminating comment screamed from the stands. The biggest challenge for soccer in Mexico right now is to put an infrastructure in place for female youth that is congruent nationwide – that will ensure development of future talent.’’
After sharing her impassioned thoughts on the women’s game in Mexico, Mónica also gave her view on the progress of the sport here in England, after I cited the positive impact of the London Olympics last summer. Alongside the great things, I also mentioned what I see as continued scepticism from certain quarters in England when it comes to female participation in football, and Mónica used an example of the autobiography of one of our best ever female players to illustrate her point.
“In my time on the national team I made an effort to speak with women from other countries to get an idea of how the game is growing in their neck of the woods. I think it is all moving forward; each country has its own set of barriers based on culture, government and socioeconomics, but for instance, the situation in England upsets me.
“I have spoken to the national team coaches, some females in the media and even female players. Kelly Smith writes about it in her book; the word ‘chauvinistic’ gets brought up and you don’t really know the extent of it until you hear their stories.
“It’s sad because England is a place I saw myself wanting to play at one point. The women’s team gave Mexico the worst beating I have personally ever experienced.
“They are incredible; like Mexico, the passion is unending, and as soon as the work that those women put in becomes as appreciated as that of the men, the English women will be a world powerhouse and everyone will want to go play there. (England coach) Hope Powell has my utmost respect for the tireless effort she has put in over the years to break that barrier.’’
As someone who has spoken before about the possible ways that image can be utilised in women’s football to market the sport, Mónica responds to the question of whether she thinks that more should be made of this aspect or not. As well as her years of unwavering efforts to help the women’s game at all levels, Mónica has also gained some focus in the past for a photoshoot that she was involved in. She gives her perspective on that also and explains how the situation actually transpired.
“I think if a player wants to take sexy photos it’s her own prerogative, but I don’t necessarily think it will help drive the game forward. I have had some edgy photos come out on the Internet but most people don’t know the story behind those photos.
“The shoot was arranged by one of the top agents in Mexican men’s soccer who was going to represent me and needed photos for my ‘book’ to show potential sponsors in business meetings only. Then before I even had a chance to see them, the few poses where I am in a swimsuit were all over the Internet and even came out in the newspaper in my parents’ hometown.
“Let’s just say ‘Daddy was not happy’ and neither was I. For me, that was a hard learning experience and I am sensitive to what certain types of photos and publicity can do to your image.
“At that time, I had a sponsorship where I was doing clinics across Mexico for children, and that simply wasn’t the way I wanted myself portrayed. I think athletes need to prove themselves on the field first, and once that is done, what she chooses to do with that notoriety is up to her.
“The same then can be said for women’s football.’’
It was a point I touched upon earlier but Mónica’s canvas has in many ways been painted by select moments that turned out differently to how she planned, but fantastically in their own way. This seems to be evidenced even further in the fact that her missing out on the Mexico squad for the 2011 World Cup led to her joining ESPN’s commentary team for the tournament. This in turn resulted in what remains her current role with the world-renowned network as a reporter and analyst, and it is a venture that she has taken on alongside another hugely meaningful one.
Gonzo Soccer came about in 2009 after Mónica put on a clinic in the community with Hispanic girls while pursuing her career in Chicago. The owner of ChiTown Futbol, a soccer facility, offered the opportunity for Mónica to use their field for her clinic’s future sessions after a very encouraging response to the first one. Now Gonzo Soccer exists as a non-profit academy offering underprivileged girls training during the whole year from top-level mentors in soccer, academic studies and life. Mónica describes how it has all been going, both with Gonzo Soccer and ESPN.
“I just completed my first full year covering the MLS and U.S. Men’s National Team with ESPN, as well as being a colour commentator for women’s collegiate soccer, and I absolutely loved every minute of it. It’s definitely taken me out of my comfort zone, but has been a rewarding challenge.
“Gonzo Soccer continues to grow into new markets, both in Mexico and the United States, so I am continuing to oversee that and ensure we get financing. The way club soccer is in the U.S., it’s so expensive that an entire segment of the population is excluded, and since club is the path to college soccer and the national team, there are few Latina and other inner city girls who will ever get seen.
“I hope to give some of them a chance, and for the others, the opportunity to be involved in the beautiful game and all the life lessons it brings will hopefully be enough to steer them clear of the troubles that urban life entails.’’
As a player and person who has thrived on a personal level and continues to help others to do so thanks to her endeavour and unquestionable talent, Mónica concluded the interview by choosing her four teammates of her career she would select to play alongside her in a 5-a-side team. This is my regular question to finish the interviews on here with and Mónica embraced it fully, just as she did with all the others. There are three American-born players in Mónica’s four choices, but also representatives of the national teams of Canada, Mexico and Germany.
“Karina LeBlanc (goalkeeper) – played with her on the Boston Breakers and she is one of the most fun players I have ever played with. Whatever social engagement that goes along with this 5-a-side tournament, I want KK there!
“Lisa Gomez (defender) – from my Mex national team, used to mark Mia Hamm all the time and saved my ass every day. Maren Meinert (midfielder/striker) – played with her on the Boston Breakers, flat-out best player I ever played with and she is on her way to being the best coach in the world.
“Jenny Strieffer (midfielder) – played with her at Notre Dame, they don’t make centre-mids like her anymore. I’d probably play defence with Lisa and let her save my ass like always, and get yelled at by KK like the good ole days!’’
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