Q&A: Santa Rosa United alum Maddy Gonzalez
Note: NorCal Premier Soccer regularly sits down with an influential figure in the youth soccer landscape to pick their brain about a variety of different topics that are relevant in the current soccer environment in the United States. For this edition we spoke with former Santa Rosa United and NorCal PDP forward Maddy Gonzalez. Gonzalez starred in the college game for four years at Santa Clara before signing with Upper V Athlete Management and beginning her professional career this past summer for FH in Iceland. She just returned home from her first season in the professional game.
NorCal: How did you fall in love with soccer?
Gonzalez: It’s just been in my family. Even before I was born, my older sister was playing competitively. Since the day I was born, I’ve been on the soccer field watching. My mom knew that I was always going to be passionate about the sport. When I was two-years-old, I ran onto the field during my older sisters’ game and it took both of my parents to pull me off, kicking and screaming. Just from that moment, I was always about it. I thought it was so fun, the competitive aspect was unbeatable, and it was such a great place to make friends. From day one, there was no question that I was going to be a big fan of the sport.
NorCal: How was your experience in your first few years at Santa Rosa United?
Gonzalez: I started playing at the club when I was six, but thinking back there weren’t a lot of tournaments for young girls at that time, so we were playing with boys, which we did until we were around 10, but even then we were still playing in some boys tournaments. It’s honestly really nice seeing the progression for girls soccer.
NorCal: When did you get really serious about playing?
Gonzalez: When I was in seventh grade I started getting really serious about it because I was given more opportunities to go to a national camp or there was this program called the Nike Champs tournament in Oregon. It was the top 100 girls and boys and you were there for a week just competing. It was probably the most insane thing I’ve ever done. It started for girls born in 1996 to 1993 and I was born in 1997 so I was the youngest person there. I was still in middle school so it was really scary but that’s when you kind of realize that there’s college scouts everywhere. You’re saying, “Oh my gosh, this is a level that I’m not used to.” I was used to just playing for fun and now you’re playing to impress people because that’s going to be your future. I already knew that I wanted to play college soccer, but this was an introduction to what’s going to happen in my future. These were all girls that I was going to be playing against in a decade. I was also seeing girls who were definitely better than me because they were older than me so I decided that I needed to take everything 10 times more seriously and get out there on my own like these other girls did. After that first camp I started practicing with boys teams on the weekend after my team’s practices. I started doing personal trainings all the time with (NorCal PDP coach) Justin Selander. I owe a lot of credit to him. I was training with him all the time in my youth. He was my team coach for a year but he’s a very good family friend too so I was always out shooting with him.
NorCal: How did you decide on Santa Clara?
Gonzalez: I fell in love with Santa Clara the moment I stepped on campus. It’s very close to Santa Rosa, which I was
really fortunate to have. A big thing for me among the schools I was considering was I wanted to make sure that my parents could afford to travel to go to all my games because they’ve been my No. 1 support system my whole life. They always made sure that they had the financial means to put me in the best levels of youth soccer, and unfortunately in the US, that’s not always cheap but they always made it happen for me. I felt like I owed it to them for them to be able to see me play. They knew that soccer was what I really loved doing so they went through hardships to get me and my younger systems playing club soccer. I was lucky enough to go to an ODP camp my freshman year of high school and Jerry Smith, the Santa Clara coach, personally invited me to that camp. I had never really been a part of something like that before and Jerry invited me there. The fact that I was able to experience his coaching style and meet him before I went to his school, I found very comforting. I really liked how he coached me so I felt like I could do this because he trusted me and invited me to this camp. I was frustrated before that camp because I wanted to be a part of all these camps but I wasn’t really getting the opportunity to get invited to these things. Him showing me and telling me that I had the potential to do these things was a huge incentive for me to go to Santa Clara and it made it even better when I was finally able to visit the campus. Just the camaraderie that Santa Clara women’s soccer has within the team was unbeatable. I felt so welcome, even just visiting as a 14-year-old girl. Everyone was so nice and accommodating. Then a couple girls who I met through some of these camps also committed around the same time that I did. That just made it even better because now I felt 10 times more excited to go to school with some of the girls that I’d been lucky enough to play with, or against, my whole life.
NorCal: From there, how did you end up in Iceland?
Gonzalez: One of my college teammates was an Icelandic girl who was playing in Iceland her whole life before she came to Santa Clara. Once I graduated from Santa Clara in March, she reached out to me to tell me that there was a team in Iceland who’d watched me play and really liked me. I didn’t really know how the recruiting process at the next level worked, but I kept it in mind. When I hired my agent at Upper V Athlete Management, he ended up reaching out to them just to see how official it was going to be. Soon after that, we were about to make a deal and had the contract printed out, but then COVID hit and I was hesitant because I didn’t know if I really wanted to get on a plane, well two planes because the only place you could fly to Iceland out of the US was Boston. It was going to be a huge process and no one really knew too much about COVID and how it was spreading at that point. I was really scared so I delayed the process until May when I finally committed to going and signed the contract because it seemed as though nobody else in the world was playing but Iceland still was because they were able to take control of the spread of COVID in their country right away. So I decided that I had to be grateful for this opportunity and they were still playing but no one else in the world was. I thought that in the long run, if I didn’t do this, I would wonder why I skipped out on an opportunity like this. My whole life has been dedicated to playing soccer at the highest level and now I had the opportunity to do that and travel the world. It was just a dream come true. They called me saying that if I signed the contract I had to leave the next day. I was staying in Santa Clara so I packed up everything in my room, which took me all day, stuffed it in my car, drove to Santa Rosa, said goodbye to my family, and then they took me to the airport. It was a very hectic couple of days.
NorCal: So are you just now back in the US for the first time since then?
Gonzalez: Yup, I just got back and it’s so weird because now I’m back in a country that’s experiencing something new for the first time. I went on a run the second day I got back and I’ve never seen so many political signs in the neighborhood before. So I’m home wondering, “where am I?” Everything in the town I’m in is boarded up, prepared for chaos. It feels like I’m entering a new world.
NorCal: So what was your experience like in Iceland?
Gonzalez: It was awesome, I absolutely loved it. It’s so professional over there because soccer is the sport in Iceland. I was staying in a small city 10 minutes away from the capital — most of our games were in Reykjavik. They have great stadiums there and six different clubs in the capital region. You see gear for each club everywhere. In the small town that I was staying in, we were called FH, and the town had our club stuff all over. There were posters of us everywhere, our stadium was beautiful. Being there was a really nice and professional environment to be in, especially for me as a rookie because I had no idea what to expect. We were treated very professionally, we were given nice apartments, we had a really good athletic facility for strength and conditioning. Right when I got there, we watched one of the men’s games, where there were attendance regulations because of COVID, but even then, there were people fighting to get in to watch the soccer game. It made me really excited to get into my first game.
NorCal: So what’s the plan now, are you going to return there next year?
Gonzalez: Everything is really up in the air right now. I might go back to Iceland because I loved it so much, but I’m also keeping the door open for other opportunities too. I have a couple of friends who are playing in Mexico right. The programs in Mexico are growing and they’re trying to raise the level there, but I have a couple of friends who I played with in college there right now and they’re absolutely loving it — they’re being treated very professionally and the level of media attention they’re getting is better than I would have thought it would ever be, especially in Mexico where male soccer is much more dominant. It’s been looking really promising and the way they treat their players is good. I think that’s important because for women in the game of soccer, universally, it’s been lacking with the way they get treated even though it’s a growing part of the sport, especially in the US. It’s really important to me that we’re not being treated as second tier athletes. I also wouldn’t be opposed to playing in the US. I’m just trying to be wary with what’s happening with COVID and how much players are going to be allowed to play. Even in Iceland we had the last two games of the season canceled because COVID was spreading and the population is largely elderly so they had to stop things before they got too much worse.
NorCal: There are a lot of young athletes in our clubs who are looking to end up where you are now. What advice would you give to these players?
Gonzalez: My advice would be to remember that there’s always someone else who is working just as hard as you, if not harder. I think there were a lot of times where I could have just been willing to settle things but there are always opportunities out there. Even when soccer may be getting hard or you’re seeing your friends doing other things that aren’t soccer — when I was growing up, soccer was everything for us from when up until we were 13 or 14, but then your friends start to do other things, but as attractive as those things may seem, the payoff of soccer is so great. It doesn’t always have to be making the US National Team, soccer can give you so many opportunities, whether it’s playing soccer abroad, playing in the US in the great programs we have here, or it could be soccer taking you to college. I just think it’s important to remember that the payoff is always going to be worth it. You may be tired from endlessly working and practicing, but soccer is always so much fun. It’s going to bring you so many friends and so many amazing memories. I never thought I was going to end up in Iceland, but I’m so glad I did. It was the most amazing experience I could have asked for. Soccer has brought me so many amazing opportunities that, honestly, I don’t think my family and I could have ever afforded on our own. Cherish all the stuff that soccer brings and don’t take those things for granted.