He left his California home to play in Mexico when he was 15, graduated from mighty Monterrey's youth teams to its big Liga MX club when he was 18 and chose to play for Mexico's national team a year after that.
Now, four years later, Jonathan Gonzalez is on the comeback trail at age 23. He is also on a 10-game trial plus playoffs with Minnesota United in a career once so promising.
The Loons paid Colorado $50,000 in general allocation money for his MLS discovery rights and signed him on loan from Monterrey until year's end. The club has an option to keep Gonzalez after that.
"It's great, I've been wanting to come back to MLS for a while now," Gonzalez said after Friday's training in Blaine. "So glad I made this choice. I'm really glad to be here."
He said he told his agent more than a year ago to get him to MLS from Mexico, where he was loaned to other Liga MX teams in 2021 and 2022. He said he did so after seeing how much MLS has grown since he left the United States eight years ago.
Being closer to his family in northern California — and them to him — helped, too.
"The league was much different back then," Gonzalez said.
So, too, was Gonzalez in years past, when he was considered a rising star. He now is on loan until season's end, still at a young age.
"I wouldn't say I'm too old," he said. "I'm 23."
He's four years older than when the Mexican American used a one-time option and decided to play for Mexico's national team instead of the American team. It made headlines, particularly in the United States and particularly after the Americans failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Gonzalez was asked about it on Friday. "Oh, you know, things happen," he said. "The decision I made at that time, I wouldn't say I regret it. I'm just working to get back to that level."
He attributes the career turnabout to a series of muscular injuries.
"I've had a lot of games and a lot of experience," Gonzalez said. "I pretty much say what was holding me back was the injuries. I'm feeling really good, have a lot of confidence. I think I can really help the team."
Loons coach Adrian Heath called Gonzalez's career path these past eight years a matter of circumstances that happens to so many players.
"We spoke about where he was and where he is," Heath said. "It's obviously not gone well for him for one or two reasons. That can happen in football, a new manager, somebody with a different opinion. Before you know where you are, you've gone on loan and it doesn't work there. You're thinking, 'How's it come to this?' when people were talking about him being this bright new star."
Gonzalez joined his new teammates for training this week, and Heath said he intends to play him in Sunday's game at Nashville.
"We'll see where he is at," Heath said. "I think it'd be too much of a stretch for him to do 90 minutes. … The one thing about him: he's come in and fit in really, really well. He looks as though he has a lot of hunger in him. I think he wants to make this work."
Gonzalez played both the 6 and 8 roles for Monterrey. Heath said he plays with "big energy" and likes to break into the 18-yard box. Heath praised Gonzalez's work ethic and noted his two-a-day workouts this week to get ready to play.
Gonzalez calls himself "really dynamic," good at repossessing the ball and playing forward to "help the team out."
Heath said he watched Gonzalez and Monterrey play a CONCACAF Champions League game in 2019 and walked away thinking Gonzalez was the best player on the field. It was their first of two titles in three years.
"The one thing that isn't in doubt is he has talent," Heath said. "We know that."