Eric Gonzalez is an American professional soccer player who most recently played for the Oakland Roots of the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA). Gonzalez, a California native, grew up playing for the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA youth teams. The talented midfielder then went on to attend the University of California, Riverside. At UCR Gonzalez was a standout, being one of the most productive on the team in assists in all four of his years there. After college, Gonzalez went on to play for SoCal SC of the NPSL and Cal FC of the UPSL. After his time with those two clubs, Gonzalez signed his first professional contract with the USL Championship's very own, Las Vegas Lights FC. After a solid season with Las Vegas, the 25 year old moved over to Oakland to star for the Oakland Roots in their inaugural NISA campaign.
1. Growing up in California, what was your youth career like?
So, growing up in California, I started playing club soccer when I was 7 years old. There weren’t any youth teams my age so I had to play up 2 years for an under 10 team. When I was 12 I finally got put into my same age group team where I got scouted to try out for Cal South ODP in which I made the ODP team and made the Region 4 ODP team as well. During this time ODP was the main way to go and get scouted for the youth national teams. I went to Boston to try out for the U14 US Youth National Team which I ended up making the team. During this time, my parents, coach, and I decided to make the move from club soccer to academy. I went to try out for the LA Galaxy Youth Academy and I was selected for the team. The level was a lot harder and because there was no team for my age group I had to play the U16 age level while being 14 years old. This was something not new to me playing up in age. I eventually got called for various U14 and U15 US Youth National Team camps and got the call up for the US U17 Residency age group which had their players stay for 2 years in Bradenton, Florida to eventually make the way to the U17 World Cup. I only stayed there for a year and came back home and continued with the Galaxy Academy helping the U16 age group winning its first ever USSDA academy national title. After that year, I went to play for the Chivas USA U18 Youth Academy team where I played and captained the team during my last year of high school. During this year I was given the opportunity of training and playing reserve games with the Chivas USA first team for the whole year. I had to transfer out of public high school to private online school in order to be able to train with the first team. By training with full-on professionals, I was able to elevate my game and my development.
2. How were you initially recruited to UC Riverside?
I was initially recruited to UC Riverside by reaching out and emailing the head coach who at the time was Junior Gonzalez. He currently coaches the LA Galaxy 2 USL team. He was interested in me from the start and we stayed in contact on the process of getting me to go to UCR after graduating from high school and playing at Chivas USA.
3. You made an immediate impact at UCR, recording the second most assists as a freshman. How was your transition from high school to college?
My transition from High School to UCR in terms of academics was definitely quite a change. My transition to college soccer was easier since I had been training with the Chivas USA first team for nearly a year and it helped me be able to read the game faster and be able to play quicker at that level.
4. In your sophomore year in 2013, you were ranked the 92nd best player in the country per TopDrawerSoccer. What does that ranking mean to you?
The ranking of being in the top 100 in the nation for D1 college soccer really meant a lot to me. It reflected all the hard work I’ve always put into training and trying to make myself even better than the previous day. I also had amazing teammates that pushed me and supported me as a teammate to always be training even when I was tired. I’ll always be grateful and proud to have been awarded this ranking.
5. Overall, how was your college experience?
My college experience was truly amazing. I will always be grateful to UCR for awarding me the soccer scholarship because I received a great education and when I graduated, I barely had any student debt. I left the UCR soccer program tied in third place for the most assists. In 2014, we won the first ever division title in program history for UCR. It was an amazing feeling to come to this program and to leave it in a better state than when I first came in as a freshman.
6. What’s your biggest advice for college players looking to make an impact?
My biggest advice for college soccer players is to take care of their schooling first because a player, like in high school soccer, needs to have good grades in order to play. One transition that might be difficult is the time management of dealing with academics, training, assignments and traveling for games. Once someone is able to manage their time wisely and get ahead of their school, it makes everything so much easier. Also, in the off-season, as a team you’re only allowed to touch the ball for 2 hours every week. This is the time to take advantage of being able to train on your own and to make sure to not waste any time at all. In the off-season is when someone can really make strides in being a better player and student as well.
7. After college, you played for SoCal SC of the Npsl?
How did this opportunity come about? After college soccer, I went on a couple of USL tryouts in which I wasn’t selected, but I still wanted to play at a competitive level. I had a previous coach that was going to be coaching this NPSL team and he invited me to play there. I was really grateful that I still had opportunities to play at a high level and playing NPSL for 3 years really prepared me to be able to play in the USL and NISA leagues.
8. After two years with SoCal SC, you move over to UPSL side, Cal FC. What did you learn in your time with Cal FC?
I learned a lot being with Cal FC. I had a top manager in Keith Costigan that always emphasized that just by playing more simpler that we can achieve more on the field which we did. At this level I had so many teammates that were very experienced and had either played professionally or were looking to play professionally. We had such a talented group that we were blowing past teams in the UPSL.
9. Once your time with Cal FC came to an end, you signed your first professional contract with the Las Vegas Lights. How were you feeling after signing for the Lights?
I was so excited to sign my first professional contract with the Las Vegas Lights. I’ll always be forever grateful to Eric Wynalda and Assistant Coach Agustin Rodriguez for taking a chance on me and helping me accomplish my life-long dream of becoming a professional soccer player. I was so determined to give my all in everything I did while being a pro athlete.
10. What did you notice in your step up from semi pro to pro?
Stepping up from semi pro to pro, I noticed there was a big difference in the intensity of the training and the games. The physicality was also a huge difference too. The actual matches felt so much faster-paced and I always felt like there was less time on the ball, so the next ball action had to be thought at such a quicker pace.
11. How was your time in Las Vegas?
I enjoyed my time with Las Vegas so much. The fans were very welcoming there, we always had an average of 7,000+ fans at all our home games. To play in front of your home fans is such a unique experience to enjoy as a soccer player. My teammates in Las Vegas were also an amazing group to be around with. Many of the guys I had either played with or played against numerous times, so we had that team chemistry already set. It made our transition to playing at the professional level that much easier.
12. This past season, you joined the Oakland Roots of the newly formed US professional league, NISA. How do you think the NISA has done so far?
I think NISA has done an amazing job of expanding in its second season of existence. To have attained top NPSL sides such as Chattanooga FC and Detroit City will only make the competition that much better in the league. The NISA league also gives a platform to so many other players to sign their first ever professional contracts and allows other players to keep playing at such a high level.
13. At Oakland, you are a vital part in one of the most exciting up and coming teams on the American soccer scene. What are your main goals for the future over in Oakland?
The Oakland Roots SC has so much going for them in the near-future. They are run by a first class organization that insists on the club being community based and the fan following they have for the club shows for itself. All the home games we had the previous season were all sold out with more than 5,000 fans in attendance in its first season which is a huge success for any first-year team.
14. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Plain and simple, “to never give up, if you want something you work hard and go and get it.”
15. What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
I’m a huge nerd. I’m probably one of the biggest Star Wars and Harry Potter fans out there.
16. In five words, describe yourself.
Passionate, determined, loyal, compassionate, and friendly
17. Any last words for the readers?
I’ll echo again, that one should not give up on whatever it is that you want to do in life. It took me three years after playing college soccer to get my first professional contract. Usually after the first year of finishing college soccer if one hasn’t signed as a pro, then it’s time to get a job or continue with higher education. I continued training hard, and playing wherever I could, and made some sacrifices along the way so that I would be ready when the opportunity to play professionally came along. I continued pursuing my goal even though some people told me to quit and just give it up. If you really want to accomplish a goal, go for it, but be ready to work hard and make some sacrifices while you focus on your goal.
A huge thank you to Eric for the amazing interview! Wishing you the best of luck in your future!
photo via https://twitter.com/ericgo28