In general, it's tough to glean too much definitive information from the first few days of preseason training camp. You can confirm that all players have two legs and can run for long stretches of time, but besides that, there's really not a lot to take from the first week of camp.
However, one young player has been turning heads over the last few days and that's Homegrown goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez.
The 19-year-old returned to Frisco this week with a new-found confidence fresh off winning the CONCACAF U-20 Championships with Mexico.
"It was a great experience and really a top tournament," said Gonzalez on Wednesday. "Thank God everything went well there and I’m glad to be back."
Gonzalez started five of the six games for Mexico, earning three shutouts in the championship-winning performance and goalkeeping coach Drew Keeshan couldn't be more proud of his young apprentice.
"I remember when we got Jesse when he was 15 and he was going to be a long-term project," said Keeshan. "When you work with the same player for four years, you obviously take a lot of pride in that and you’re so happy for him because you know at the time that you met him that was his goal to be a professional player and to represent his country. When you see him fulfill that, you’re obviously happy and take a lot of pride in the things you did to help him get there."
Perhaps the most noticeable difference in the young goalkeeper is simply that you can now hear him on the field. Having worked on his communication for years, Gonzalez could be seen in a 7v7 scrimmage on Tuesday barking out instructions to older players on his team and taking charge of his box with more confidence than ever seen before.
"You’ve always got to be talking to your defenders, it helps you stay focused. If you don’t do that, you’ll lose focus so that really helped me a lot," said Gonzalez. "I’ve had to work on it a lot with the coaches telling me it’s something I need to do. It’s been getting better."
For goalkeepers, sometimes success hinges not only on shot-stopping but on what you do while your team is defending higher up the pitch and Gonzalez took the U-20 championships as an opportunity to work on his vocal game, something that manifested itself this week during practice.
"That’s what I noticed on TV with the national team is you could tell it was an environment he was comfortable in with players around his own age," said Keeshan. "He was comfortable in that and he needs to have that same comfort level talking to Zach [Loyd] or Matt [Hedges], the senior pro players. I noticed yesterday that he felt more comfortable doing that which is great. He still has a ways to go, but it’s encouraging absolutely."
January's tournament was the culmination of a process that started late in 2014. With Raul Fernandez unavailable, Gonzalez appeared on the bench for the crucial final regular season match of 2014 against Portland as well as the playoff win over Vancouver, just one step away from playing in goal. For Keeshan, it was an eye-opening experience that served to focus Gonzalez on the road in front of him.
"I noticed a change the week or two leading up to when he knew he was going to be on the bench just in how he approached things," said Keeshan. "I think that was the moment for him sitting on the bench in a playoff game is a big moment for any young player. I know he loved the environment and the lights came on. You could see a noticeable change top to bottom, little things and big things."
Of course, there's no bigger confidence booster than saving two PKs to win the CONCACAF U-20 Championship for your country, something Jesse did on Saturday in Jamaica.
"It’s a massive confidence boost for a young 'keeper to do that for his country in a game televised around the world with all eyes on him, in his country and here as well. It gives him a lot of confidence," said Keeshan. "Everyone was congratulating him and everyone knew about his success. More power to him. Hopefully he’ll have more big moments like that."