Jonathan Gonzalez, on loan for now, gaining comfort with Minnesota United

Jonathan Gonzalez, on loan for now, gaining comfort with Minnesota United

Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath’s belief in Jonathan Gonzalez was validated when the recently acquired midfielder scored last Sunday’s second goal in a playoff-clinching 2-0 shutout victory over Vancouver.

Gonzalez has appeared in eight games — seven as a second-half sub, one as starter — since the Loons signed him for defensive-midfield help in early August. He’s on loan from Mexican Liga MX club Monterrey until season’s end and the Loons have a contract option for 2023.

Season’s end could be as soon as Monday night. That’s when the sixth-seeded Loons enter the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season, this time at third-seeded FC Dallas.

Or the Loons could play on toward next month’s MLS Cup final with a midfield solidified by the returns of versatile Robin Lod from a calf injury, Kervin Arriaga from a one-game suspension and Gonzalez itching for a bigger role on a team for which he sees a future.

“There is no doubt there is a lot of talent there,” Heath said about Gonzalez. “Certainly, he has got my trust. Jonathan’s done great. He’s a great kid and we’ve loved having him. We have to see what happens end of year, but we wouldn’t be adverse to having him back.”

Gonzalez said joining the Loons in August has been a difficult adjustment.

“The minutes I get, I just try to give it my all,” he said. “It’s tough coming on late in the season, but I just try to do what Adrian asks.”

Heath acknowledged as much about a player he calls active, dynamic and dependable on the ball. Gonzalez showed a willingness and ability to run with his MLS goal.

“He’s a smart footballer,” Heath said. “He gets the game. The one thing about Jonathan is if we put him on, we know what we’re going to get. He’s a quality player. He understands the game, which is really important. … I wouldn’t hesitate to start (Gonzalez) if I thought that was necessary.”

Gonzalez has come to the MLS for the first time since the former Mexican American prodigy and U.S. youth national teams member signed at age 14 with Monterrey. Four years later, he opted to play for Mexico’s national team in a one-time decision that made international headlines in at least two languages. He played three games for the club.

He played the past nine years for Monterrey and was loaned out to other Mexican clubs before he came to the MLS. He’s seeking to overcome injuries that sidetracked his career and reclaim the level at which he played in Liga MX playoff and CONCACAF Champions League games that impressed Heath.

“I respect him,” veteran teammate Kemar Lawrence said. “He’s always ready. That’s one of the things I love: Keep going, keep your head up. He has been around for a minute but he’s playing really well.”

At 23, Gonzalez is younger than many soccer supporters think because they’ve known his name for so long.

“A lot of people are surprised when they learn I’m 23,” he said. “I’m happy for all that’s done and I keep on working.”

His signing has brought him closer to his parents and younger brother Adrian — who plays for LA Galaxy’s reserve team — in northern California, where he was born and raised. He expects about 10 family and friends to attend Monday’s game. He bought tickets for about 50 of the 60 who traveled when the Loons played at nearby San Jose two weeks ago.

“A pretty big bill,” he said, smiling.

His cellphone buzzed often at his Allianz Field locker last weekend after he scored his first MLS goal.

“It was pretty much just family,” Gonzalez said. “I live for that, family and friends. I’m grateful whenever they reach out.”

Gonzalez said he foresees a future in MLS after this season, possibly in Minnesota.

“I’d love that,” he said. “I’m just enjoying the moment, I hope to stay here in MLS and I love it here in Minnesota. Me and my agent are trying to work something out so I can stay here.”

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