Will Jonathan Gonzalez go to the 2018 World Cup with Mexico?

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Now that the midfielder has declared his allegiance to Mexico after playing for U.S. youth teams, the question looms: How does he fit in with El Tri?

The decision has been made and the paperwork sent. All that remains now between Jonathan Gonzalez and representing the Mexican national team is FIFA approval and actually getting a call-up.

Both should be relatively academic. FIFA has moved with uncharacteristic speed in previous situations like when William Yarbrough swapped from Mexico to the U.S. in 2015 or when Jesse Gonzalez got approval in June to suit up for the Stars and Stripes in the Gold Cup. It's also a good bet that the switch wouldn't be coming if Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio wasn't ready to call Gonzalez into the team, so you can expect a call-up. 

Ideally for Mexico, the approval process will be completed before the Jan. 31 friendly against Bosnia & Herzegovina. Then, Osorio would have a chance to play Gonzalez in a game alongside fellow domestic-based players. He could see how he trains and evaluate the player up close, and he could continue conversations with the teenager that started in 2017 when the potential of wooing him from the U.S. system emerged.

While minutes in friendly matches this year are a lock, Gonzalez remains a long shot to make the World Cup. For one thing, the 18-year-old had an incredible six months, but that makes up his entire body of work. For another, Osorio sees Gonzalez as a player who would need to play as one of the midfielders around the central player rather than in the middle of his three-man midfield. That would see him have to displace Jonathan dos Santos or Hector Herrera to win a starting spot. That's unlikely, but not as unlikely as displacing veteran Andres Guardado on the other side.

Lucas Zelarayan Tigres Jonathan Gonzalez Monterrey

"I think he's a player with very good technical abilities," Osorio told  ESPN Deportes  in December. "I'd think that for our structure, he'd be a player who would play interior midfielder and obviously he'd have to fight for a place against all the players there are there because in the central midfield, above all in international football, we're inclined to go with another type of player with a different profile. But I'd think that in a one-two structure he could be an important player as one of the two interior players."

Osorio will not be the coach for Gonzalez's entire career, though, and the teenager will be part of the Mexico program for more than a decade if he's able to continue on his current trajectory.

Gonzalez has kept Jesus Molina, a player who had a bright future for Mexico as a central midfielder, on the bench at Monterrey. There, manager Antonio Mohamed sees him fit to play in the middle of a three-man midfield. At the club level, he has proved an adept ball-winner, flying around the Monterrey midfield to dispossess midfielders or forwards before they have a chance to get at Rayados' back line.

He is not yet N'Golo Kante, though. Gonzalez is asked to make risky long passes in Mohamed's system. Sometimes they pay off, and Gonzalez had Monterrey's best individual passing percentage. But often they are intercepted, and Gonzalez is back on the hunt once again.

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The good news for El Tri is that, as Osorio alludes to, Gonzalez has the potential to be more than just an excellent stopper. He played a more attacking role for Monterrey's youth teams and has time to learn more skills. As much as you can call Gonzalez's decision one about the here and now, it's not only his international present he's deciding but his international future as well.

Whether Gonzalez develops into a box-to-box player as Osorio sees him projecting (perhaps because of his slight frame, which is listed as a shade under 5-foot-8) or stays in front of back lines likely depends on his club situation. Rayados have a formula they'll probably stick to for the long term, but the California native may not be in northern Mexico for long. There are indications he's already on the radar for European clubs, and making the World Cup roster would only accelerate that pace.

Either way, his amazing Apertura showcased the skills that may make him a factor for the Mexico national team not only for the next several cycles but could see him edge his way onto the final roster for this summer's tournament as a depth option behind some of El Tri's top players.

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