Ahead of the 2019 NWSL season, the Houston Dash still needed to build their technical staff. They already had a new head coach onboard in James Clarkson, which they made official in mid-December, but shortly before the college draft, they also announced the addition of former Mexican national-teamer Monica Gonzalez.
Gonzalez is a name familiar to women’s soccer fans, not just from her playing days, which included a club stint in WUSA, but also from her on-air work as an analyst and her promotion of girls’ youth soccer through Gonzo Soccer Academy. She said in a phone interview with AfXI that she reached out to the Dash through her agent, who also counts Kealia Ohai as a client, and let the team know she was interested. She has NSCAA and Mexico Football Federation coaching licenses and is aiming to get a US Soccer B and similar UEFA license. As someone who spent over a decade with the Mexican women’s national team, Gonzalez is eligible to go directly to USSF’s B-license course. And on top of that, Gonzalez is a Texas native, having been born in Corpus Christi, with parents who still live in the area, giving her a strong connection to the team and its fanbase.
As one of the few women on an NWSL coaching staff, Gonzalez said Clarkson asked her to act as a link between him and the players, considering Clarkson has never coached a professional women’s side before. That situation is a symptom of a larger problem in soccer coaching - the dominance of men on coaching staffs at every level of the game. But it’s particularly tough at the professional level, where spots are much rarer. Gonzalez believes that “there are a lot of really good female coaches out there that have been coaching at the collegiate level that would like to go pro that are maybe getting overlooked for a male with perhaps a bigger reputation or whatever.” She also believes in hiring more women for admin roles, citing Alyse LaHue’s time as general manager of the Chicago Red Stars (and now interim GM for Sky Blue FC), and thinks it’s important to promote people who have been working within the women’s game.
At the same time, Gonzalez called Clarkson an exception to her rule, “Because you don’t often get a lot of people that have been successful on the men’s side that have wanted to cross over.” She cited his organization, the caliber of his drilling in practice, and his excitement at getting what Gonzalez called “a serious team with good resources.”
As part of the Dash’s first full-time technical staff, there’s going to be some expectations around team performance now that they have those good resources. Gonzalez said that a full-time staff has made a big difference, and they can now give players “the attention they need and deserve.”
In terms of where she’s been asked to focus, as of preseason she said Clarkson hadn’t asked her to work on any one area positionally yet, but that she was assigned “to give extra work and extra help and extra focus on the new players.” That doesn’t just mean rookies, but all the new roster acquisitions, which includes “newcomers” Christine Nairn and Sophie Schmidt. Nairn was a trade with the Orlando Pride, and Schmidt was technically a discovery player, as she’s been absent from NWSL for a few years, playing for FFC Frankfurt in Germany.
Nairn and Schmidt debuted for Houston in their 1-1 home opener against the Reign this past weekend, forming a midfield tandem with Schmidt acting as a central ball-winner and Nairn roaming more freely to try and playmake the forwards into scoring position. Gonzalez was high on Nairn’s abilities from preseason, saying “She’s the most experienced player in the league and she plays like it.”
It made for a pretty good debut half from the Dash who, according to Gonzalez, have more than just playoff aspirations this season. “This team is capable of breaking records,” said Gonzalez. “I think what North Carolina did last year is going to be pretty hard to repeat, but they have qualities that nobody else has. We certainly don’t have that kind of speed and stuff, but I think that we have our own set of tools and qualities that will allow us to not just make the playoffs but win the championship.”
“Championship” is heady stuff, but playoffs certainly aren’t unrealistic when you consider that last season, despite landing in sixth place, the Dash were only five points out of playoff position, and this without one of their key players, Kristie Mewis. But Mewis is back from injury (although she didn’t play in the Dash’s opener), and with Nairn and Schmidt in the mix, Gonzalez says that Houston has a “strong spine.” She’s confident in Mewis, whom she describes as “ice cold mentally,” and believes that the Dash’s days of underperforming are coming to an end, calling some of their losses from last season “[kicking] themselves in the foot.”
“I think we have everything that we need,” she said. “We’re a complete team. We don’t need anything but time to get the work done that we need to do.” Gonzalez hopes that more wins will drive more fan engagement, and building a stronger fanbase will feed right back into helping the team win a championship.
“This team as a franchise has the ability to really have an impact, and it starts with what we do on the field,” she said.