Jonathan Gómez got his first taste of professional soccer at the age of 15 when he made his first appearance for North Texas SC in USL League One, and just a few months later, became one of the youngest players to sign a professional contract at 16-years-old at Louisville City FC. Recently returning from the opportunity to train with the senior Mexican National Team for the duration of the Nation’s League finals, Gómez sat down with USL Academy to discuss his path to the professional stage.
Academy (A): How was your experience training with the Mexican senior national team at just 17?
Jonathan Gómez (J): It was definitely a surreal experience, seeing and training with those guys. They play at the highest levels, week in week out in Europe's top five leagues, in Mexico, wherever it may be. It's nice to see what it takes to be there and what you need to do to maintain yourself.
A: What was the best moment while with the national team?
J: We had a cookout for dinner one day. It was just fun to see everything like the culture, the team, singing and dancing, and we ate tacos and all the good stuff.
A: Do you have any good stories from the time?
J: My very first day, I was put in this warm up passing pattern with Héctor Herrera and Hirving Lozano. They came over to me and asked me my name. And they were introducing themselves. And I was like, ‘well, I know who you are.’ I thought that was kind of fun.
A: Do you remember your first professional game with North Texas SC? What was the experience like?
J: I was nervous. My first game was actually an away game in Toronto. So I was nervous. But my first few passes, I just made sure that it connected to a teammate, and I made sure that I was sound defensively. And from there, I think as the game went on, I gained more confidence. And as I played more games in North Texas, I just improved and got more confidence.
A: How did your time playing with North Texas SC in USL League One at such a young age help prepare you for playing professionally in the USL Championship now?
J: I think that the physicality is a big thing, as well as the game is just quicker overall. The players are smarter, and everything happens quicker. And I think that's the same change that I noticed, when I trained with the national team. Everything’s more physical, everything's quicker. So it's just the next level.
A: How did it feel to sign a professional contract with Louisville at just 16?
J: It was a dream come true. It is something that I put my mind to for a long, long time. And just signing that contract meant a lot to me, especially, but to my family and everyone who helped me and sacrificed a lot to help me get there. Ever since that moment, and even before, I just want to keep improving.
A: Was it an easy decision for you to go pro at 16?
J: I wouldn't say it was an easy decision, because you have to weigh all options, like going to college. There's different pathways, signing FC Dallas, or coming here. But I think ultimately, I made the right decision for my development and what I want to do, but there's plenty of options and not everybody's path is gonna be the same. There's so many paths to play professionally.
A: What led you to sign with Louisville?
J: I think the coaching staff at the time, Hackworth was with us, he's no longer with us, but as well as Danny, Mario Sanchez… we had been talking with them and my short-term and long-term goals lined up with what they had in store for me short-term and long-term. So I think that inclined me and my family to want to come here. And when we came to visit, I trained with the team a little bit and I liked it.
A: How has Louisville helped you develop your game on the field and off the field?
J: So off the field, I think a lot of the guys that are in the locker room are very experienced guys. They have a lot of experience playing professionally. So put aside the banter and all that, you do pick up a few things every day. If you pay attention, you learn stuff about anything, gym work, how to behave in the locker room, and you just pick up on simple stuff like that. And then on the field, I think I've learned a lot. And the credit is due to the coaches, as well as all my teammates, always telling me like, ‘Oh, you can do this a little bit better, maybe crossing, more defending 1v1,’ whatever it may be. I think my game has improved quite a bit ever since I've been here.
A: How are you seeing the USL Academy system within Louisville be implemented on the senior team level?
J: All the time we have academy kids in our training. Not only that, but you see Elijah Wynder and Joshua Wynder, both of them have signed pro deals coming from the Academy, as well as Sebastian Sanchez, Marcos (Cano), and Carlos (Moguel). They have also been on the rosters this year. So that just shows that the Academy is influencing the first team and they're ready to step in, whether it be because they've been doing good in training or we have an injury, suspension, whatever it may be, they're ready. They're ready for the opportunity. And I'm sure it'll come soon.
A: What advice do you have for any USL Academy kids looking to make the step to the pro level like you did?
J: I would say don't be nervous. I know, sometimes it's inevitable to be nervous, but I would say that it's good for your development. Don't be nervous and make the most of the opportunity because you've done something to earn that opportunity. So now that you're there, take advantage of it. Don't be shy. And I mean, don't back down because someone gets mad at you. They're just trying to make you a better player.