Former United States youth international Jonathan Gonzalez says his switch to Mexico felt like he was turning his back on the U.S., but insists that playing for El Tri now "feels like home."
"It's not easy knowing that I always saw myself as playing in the U.S.," Gonzalez told JUGOtv. "But now that I'm in Mexico, I feel like I'm pretty much home."
Gonzalez, 19, controversially made a one-time switch to play for Mexico's national team in January, despite coming up through U.S. Soccer's ranks at youth level.
The Monterrey midfielder was a part of the U.S. setup from under-14 to under-20 levels. He featured three times for the U17s back in 2014 but had never made a senior appearance despite enjoying a breakout season with the Liga MX club last year.
Gonzalez had long stated his desire to play for the U.S., but after the Americans' failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the Mexican federation persuaded him into switching allegiances, which a player can do once under a FIFA rule for players who have yet to make a senior national team appearance in a competitive game.
The California-born Gonzalez, who qualified for Mexico through his father, added that the reversal came at an emotional cost.
"Your father going to the U.S. in search of a better life. And you're just pretty much turning your back and coming back over here to Mexico," said the Monterrey youth product, who said he felt Mexico presented "more opportunities" for him.
Despite the home feel that playing for Mexico brings, he said he is still adjusting to sporting El Tri colors in the U.S.
"It's a little bit weird wearing the jersey over there in the U.S. because when I was younger I would be in the U.S. national team," he said. "And now that I'm with the Mexican national team in the United States, it's a little bit different."
Upon the switch, reports circulated that he'd been promised a spot in Mexico's World Cup team. However, Mexico later refuted those claims and ultimately did not include Gonzalez in its final 23-man squad headed for the tournament in Russia.
Instead, Gonzalez is with the U21s in France, where he has helped lead the team to the final of the prestigious Toulon Tournament. And he described the steep transition between junior and senior squads.
"The transition from youth football to the senior national team is something that wasn't easy, to be honest," he said. "I was not used to the style of play, the hierarchy of the players, the experience they have, but I mean it's been great for me."