FRISCO, Texas – When former MLS All-Star Dan Kennedy was a late scratch from the FC Dallas lineup Saturday, an unfamiliar face stepped between the posts.
Homegrown product Jesse Gonzalez leapfrogged Chris Seitz on the depth chart and made his first career MLS start – becoming the sixth Homegrown player to play for FCD this year – just a couple of weeks after being loaned to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
Despite being 13 years younger than Kennedy and having 159 fewer MLS games under his belt, the 20-year-old still impressed head coach Oscar Pareja in the 1-0 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps.
“He showed personality, and I saw determination in a couple of plays when he needed to come out,” Pareja said. “I’m glad. It’s another great step with our young guys.”
Holding the Whitecaps to just one goal after they had scored at least three in their previous four matches was accomplishment enough. Even the lone Whitecaps goal was arguably not entirely his fault, as midfielder Victor Ulloa played too deeply against a cutting Kekuta Manneh.
“I see him more as a man now, now that he’s working here on a daily basis and not a kid who is jumping around,” Pareja said. “I can see that he understands the demand of the work in the trainings.
“It’s something that makes me think they are already understanding what it takes,” he added. “And it’s not just being signed that makes them professionals.”
Gonzalez credits his maturity to the time he spent with Mexico’s U-20 national team over the summer. He started two of the national team’s three games in the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand, and followed that up with a strong outing in the 2015 Chipotle Homegrown Game.
Even though Gonzalez was born in North Carolina, his time with Mexico has secured his allegiance.
“As of right now, I’m committed to Mexico,” Gonzalez said. “Nothing’s going to change my mind if I get another call.”
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One thing the 20-year-old said he learned while away from Frisco was how to manage the physical side of the game.
“Taking care of my body, going to the gym, getting your body prepared before the game,” Gonzalez said. “There’s a lot of stuff they teach you over there.”
Pareja said Gonzalez’s promotion was more indicative of the youngster’s improvement in training than Seitz’s decline. And now that the Homegrown product has caught the attention of his coaches, he may be counted on even more in the coming weeks.
Kennedy has a slight tear in his knee, according to Pareja, which leaves his status in doubt as the season continues to unfold.
Whoever is in the net come Saturday when FC Dallas plays host to Real Salt Lake (9 pm ET; MLS LIVE), Gonzalez at the very least feels part of the pro club despite his youth.
“As of right now, I feel like I’m blending in,” Gonzalez said. “They support me a lot in everything that I do.”