It has been said that soccer is the international language. That it can overcome any idiomatic barriers.
For Leo Gonzalez, playing in Seattle in front of 35,000 screaming fans for the Sounders FC has given him much. Pride, for one. A smile on his face, for another.
However, if he wanted to truly be comfortable in Seattle, he would need to learn the language.
In that sense, he has made gigantic strides since he signed with the Sounders FC last July.
“The language has been the toughest part for me. It’s been difficult to communicate with my teammates at times and my coaches,” Gonzalez said. “But in general life is very calm and I’m very happy here.”
A lifelong resident of Costa Rica, Gonzalez is content living in Seattle with his wife and son. He has gotten help adjusting to his new life in a new country.
The Sounders FC was already a well-regarded organization to him when he came to the Seattle in a mid-season signing last year. Seeing the city and how they have responded has furthered that belief and helped him get comfortable in those surroundings.
“From the very beginning I knew the club was very important and I knew it was organized. It has the backing of some tremendous fans,” Gonzalez said. “It’s our first time leaving away from Costa Rica, so it was tough at first, but there have been a lot of people to help make it easy.”
After playing 11 games for the Sounders in 2009, Gonzalez strives to play every game in 2010 - whether it be regular season, US Open Cup of CONCACAF Champions League. He appears to be solidifying his starting role in training camp while getting some tough competition from Tyson Wahl.
Before 2009, though, he’d never played for any team that didn’t base itself in Costa Rica. He began his professional career in 2000 playing with CS Herediano and stayed there for nine seasons, spanning 154 matches. He also has 60 caps for the Costa Rican National Team.
Even still, nothing can distract him from his happiness in Seattle.
“To be honest, I don’t miss too much,” he said. “I miss my family, but everyone feels that. The food is different here, but I’ve been very fortunate to come to the United States to play.”
Sure enough, though, his time in Seattle could ultimately bring him back to his home country. With the Sounders 2009 US Open Cup championship came an invite to the CONCACAF Champions League, which means the club could play a game in Costa Rica.
“It would be a great opportunity to go back and play a team from Costa Rica,” said Gonzalez, 29. “It would be great to visit my country, to see my friends and the most important thing would be to represent the team as well as we can and I hope we do well in the tournament.”
While training in La Manga, Spain, it would seem natural that a player like Gonzalez would be at an advantage - a Spanish speaking player in a Spanish speaking community. However, he is using the experience to further practice his English, speaking his new language with teammates, coaches and staff as often as possible to make himself as conversational as possible.
Now, that too is bringing a smile to his face.