By John Philip Wyllie
Monica Gonzalez, a central defender on Mexico’s national team paid a visit to San Diego last Saturday. The 5’10” former Notre Dame star, now a starting center back with the WUSA Boston Breakers, played a key role in inflicting an opening night defeat upon the hometown San Diego Spirit.
Known more for her defensive skills than as an attacker, Gonzalez set up the first goal of the evening in the match’s eighth minute. Taking a well-placed corner kick from Kristine Lilly, Gonzalez alertly headed the ball to Norwegian international Dagny Mellgren. Mellgren, unmarked near the six-yard box, had little trouble beating Spirit goalkeeper Jaime Pagliarulo for the 1-0 lead. The Breakers totally dominated the first half and added a Maren Meinert insurance goal after the intermission. Down two goals to nil, with time running out, the Spirit posted a late rally. Newcomer Christine Latham, a Canadian national team striker, pulled the Spirit to within one in the 89th minute, but the Spirit’s last minute rally fell a goal short.
Gonzalez believes playing with and against some of the best female soccer players on the planet can only help her next fall when Mexico hopes to participate in its second consecutive Women’s World Cup.
“Playing with Boston gives me confidence when I go back to Mexico. It’s great playing for two different coaches and receiving different types of training. I am always learning new things and new ways to approach the game,” Gonzalez said.
Next month, Gonzalez will be part of the Mexican team that will battle an as-of-yet undetermined Asian team for the right to participate in the fourth quadrennial Women’s World Cup scheduled for China in September and October.
“On the Mexican team, I’ve been forced to step up and take more of a leadership role,” Gonzalez explained. “During the last six months, I have become the leader on defense. We’ve jelled quite well in a short time with Lisa Gomez and Susie Mora playing key defensive roles. We are really starting to come together and get organized.”
If Saturday’s game is any indication, the Boston Breakers defense has also become more organized under the leadership of new head coach Pia Sundhage.
“Our defensive problems was one of the first things that Pia addressed,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve been working on it literally every single day in practice. She has defined what she wants us to do. She’s also been defining our roles within the concept of total team defending and that has been very helpful.”
Gonzalez must be catching on. Boston’s defense smothered San Diego for most of the evening and she was one of several players singled out by Sundhage in her post-game remarks. Gonzalez’s Breakers face a tougher test next weekend when they travel to Atlanta to face Beat who are coming off a 5-0 drubbing of New York. The Spirit are fortunate to have a bye week in which to regroup.