BAILEY – No current high school athlete in the Twin Counties has been vilified as much as Moises Gonzalez has.
The Southern Nash midfielder is the best player in school history, a Division I talent and now, with the 2013 honor, a three-time winner of the Telegram’s All-Area Boys’ Soccer Player of the Year award.
So why the hate? Opposing players mark him, punish him and sometimes try to outright hurt him. Opposing fans accuse him of diving. When asked about him, some opposing coaches quickly go off the record.
Despite leading the Big East Conference in points, Gonzalez was not voted the league’s player of the year.
He has been the best for a while. And the least popular with other teams, too.
“It’s easy to make an enemy out of somebody who is that much better than you,” said John Matthews, who coached at Southern Nash from 2010-12. “I think he enjoys the treatment he gets. It’s like it fuels him. He likes to be the best.”
Gonzalez’s skills made him a full-time target. A deft ball-handler, Gonzalez controlled every Southern Nash game from center midfield. He’s a born creator, and his speed and vision make him dangerous from anywhere.
With extensive marking came extensive physicality. His marks bodied him, grabbed him and knocked him down. They came in with ruthless tackles.
Gonzalez scored a lot of goals, created just as many and won truckloads of free kicks for his team – a resume that drew the ire of opposing fans. Fully-grown adults would taunt him, scream that he’s a cheater and sometimes worse: One opposing fan once told Gonzalez, a first-generation American whose parents immigrated from Mexico, that he shouldn’t be playing soccer, he should be mowing a white person’s lawn.
The 18-year-old Gonzalez did his best to ignore all of it.
“When I get a throw-in on the side the crowd’s on, I just don’t pay any mind to what they say. I play my game out there, and if they don’t like the way I play, it’s not my fault,” Gonzalez said. “I honestly didn’t mind because I’m out there to show I can play the sport. I’m determined to show them Southern Nash is the best team and that I’m determined to play no matter what I’m being called.”
Kurt Bienias, Southern Nash’s first-year coach, didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary about the treatment Gonzalez received – and then the Firebirds entered conference play. Bienias, for one, was stunned at what he saw, and even more so at Gonzalez’s maturity in dealing with it.
“I don’t why he got vilified by the fans,” Bienias said. “I thought they could’ve and should’ve been in awe of his play and respected his play.”
Gonzalez said he went out of his way to prove.
He was about to be knocked down, he made a point to stay up even though a foul had committed. When those fouls became dirty, Bienias said that Gonzalez never retaliated, even when pushed to extreme lengths.
“There were some times when he was just getting the crap beat out of him, and he never got a red card, never retaliated. He just took the beatings,” Bienias said. “Anybody who has ever played, when you start getting whacked every time you touch the ball, it gets old real quick.”
For Gonzalez, making it in soccer has been the realization of a dream some four decades in the making. Carlos Gonzalez, Moises’ father, was a talented soccer player growing up in the border city of Matamoros, Mexico, but soccer was distraction. Even as a child, Carlos Gonzalez had to make the trek to the nearby Texas towns to work in the fields, picking cucumbers or okra or squash or broccoli for meager money his family needed.
Soccer was just a silly game in his life – the real world intruded from the outset.
Moises and Carlos Gonzalez have had legendary – and often very funny – arguments at games. Carlos would yell in Spanish from the sidelines, and Moises would tell him “¡Cállate!” (Shut up!) in return, prompting giggles from Southern Nash players and fans.
But it’s always out of love, even if they both have a temper.
“I had to work when I was little, so that’s why I say I didn’t have the opportunity he has,” Carlos Gonzalez said. “That’s why I gotta tell him. I gotta be, sometimes, mad with him because I know he can do it. I didn’t have the opportunity he has, so that’s why I support everything he does. My daddy never supported me.”
Like all immigrants, the Gonzalez family came to the United States to give their offspring a better life. And it is with great joy that Carlos Gonzalez talks about Moises’ soccer scholarship to UNC-Greensboro, where he will enroll next month, an education for which he will not pay a cent.
“It was important to me because I know we didn’t have a lot of money, and my dad’s been supporting me since I was 8. I had to repay him back somehow,” Moises Gonzalez said. “I knew if I worked hard, I could get somewhere and get my college paid for. I just don’t want them to have another big thing on their back paying for my college.”
And so Gonzalez departs next month as the most accomplished soccer player in the history of Southern Nash. A school that never had won a playoffs game before Gonzalez won five in his tenure, and the story of the Firebirds’ rise to soccer prominence must begin with Gonzalez.
All the negativity didn’t phase Gonzalez because he was too busy chasing something bigger.
Soon, he’ll stop chasing those hopes.
He’ll be living them instead.
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or email@example.com