Sept. 10, 1999
By Alan Wasielewski
Monica Gonzalez has grown accustomed to winning. The Irish have only lost four games since Gonzalez stepped onto campus in 1997 as a member of the Notre Dame women’s soccer team. Her under-16 club team, the Dallas Sting, won the national championship in 1995 and played in the championship game four out of five years. The summer of 1999 would present a whole new sensation.
Gonzalez was a member of the first-ever Mexican national team that participated in the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1999. Still in its formation stage, the Mexican team was thrust into the hardest division in the tournament. Overwhelming losses to Italy, Brazil, and Germany introduced Gonzalez to a feeling she has never had: losing consistently.
“We were pioneers,” Gonzalez explained. “I was out there with the first group of girls to ever form the national team. To be honest, the team was horrendous. Most of the girls were 16 and 17. My college experience (only one year at the time) made me one of the veterans on the team.”
Gonzalez doesn’t think twice about her decision. The opportunity to play in the World Cup is cherished and the ability to form a great Mexican national team is a project she looks forward to.
“We came a long way in a year and are committed to getting better,” Gonzalez said. “Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, they are all superstars now, but they were in the position I am in today with Mexico, searching for financial support, getting publicity. Those were once the U.S. team problems, they are now our problems.”
Monica played heavy minutes for the Mexican team in the World Cup and still remembers the scoring chance that slipped away.
“I had a one-one-one with the goalie against Brazil,” Gonzalez said. “I shot the ball toward the far post and the keeper barely got a piece of it with her leg. One more foot to the right, I would have scored. That would have been huge.”
Returning to the Irish line-up this season after an injury sidelined her for 1998, Gonzalez is another great player on an Irish roster stocked with talent. Gonzalez should help the Irish attack become one of the best in the nation in 1999. As a freshman in 1997, she scored 10 goals, had five assists, and was named BIG EAST rookie of the week in her first collegiate game. Her first career start ended with her first game-winning goal against Pittsburgh. As the tallest Irish player at 5-11, Gonzalez excels at challenges in the air. She is the main target for her teammate’s corner kicks and header opportunities.
“It is nice to come back and play at Notre Dame,” Gonzalez said. “Playing in the World Cup is extremely difficult and the collegiate game is just a step down. It’s an easier transition than I have been accustomed to, and hopefully I can take advantage of all the extra experience I had over the summer.”
That experience might have shown up already in 1999. In a season-opening game against North Carolina on September 3, Gonzalez scored the first goal for the Irish.
“I’ve always hoped that I could score against North Carolina,” Gonzalez explained. “I wasn’t expecting to score, it was my first game back with the team in a year and I was shocked when it happened.”
North Carolina would go on to win the game 3-2 in double overtime in another great chapter in the classic Tar Heel – Irish series, one of the biggest rivalry in women’s collegiate soccer in the 90s.
“Every person that comes into this program puts that pressure upon themselves,” Gonzalez said. “We consider the year a failure if we do not win the national championship. It seems natural to me, that is the way I like it.”
For now, Gonzalez is back on a winning team and loving every minute of it. With her desire and ability, the Mexican national team can only get stronger with her presence, and the Irish can make a strong push for their second national championship in the 90’s.