In his short time at Penn State, Daniel Gonzalez has already started to make a name for himself despite not having many chances to do so.
Gonzalez, a redshirt sophomore from Costa Rica, walked on last year as a freshman.
Since then, Gonzalez has only furthered his soccer career and value to Penn State, working his way up in practice and getting more and more playing time as a result.
Gonzalez played only a total of 87 minutes during his first year on the team. During those 87 minutes, he took a single shot in which found the back of the net for his first career goal.
This moment proved to be a glimpse into the future of his career as it demonstrated his ability to deliver even when only entering the game as a bench player.
Coming into his sophomore season, Gonzalez was seeing similar playing time to last year’s campaign and was part of a midfield group which included captain Aaron Molloy and regular starters Austin Maloney and Callum Pritchatt.
He appeared in an early game against Bowling Green, but then didn’t see the pitch for over a month, until he got the call for a mid-season nonconference matchup.
It was Gonzalez's work ethic and commitment to the team that gave coach Jeff Cook an easy decision to start him in a game which Cook wanted to rest the regular starters.
Gonzalez's first start came against Stony Brook and he took the opportunity and ran with it.
Tallying two goals and an assist, Gonzalez, in just one game, tied for the then-team lead in goals scored and total points as well.
But for Cook, Gonzalez's soccer prowess and hard work were nothing new.
"One of the things we talk about when you're not getting the chances to play that you think you deserve is to work hard and to perform well in training," Cook said. "Daniel has been a fantastic example of that and that's why he's earned his way into the team."
By Gonzalez's own admission, he was itching for a chance to prove what he had in game scenarios and not just practice.
“I was so hungry,” Gonzalez said. “I hadn’t played all season and I trained so hard, I wanted a chance and I got it and just took advantage of it.”
Gonzalez’s talent and impact off the bench is obvious at this point, but with an already established starting midfield, Gonzalez has only made one other start since his impressive performance against the Seawolves.
The San Jose, Costa Rica, native is keenly aware of the work he's put in and how despite that, not everyone can start.
“That’s coach's decision,” Gonzalez said. “I just try to show him what I’ve got and if he wants to put me as a starter then, I love it. We’ll see.”
Despite not starting regularly for the team, Gonzalez makes his presence felt with valuable minutes and by being a solid teammate.
“Daniel’s been great. He’s obviously been patient,” Molloy said. “[He's been] working hard in practice, working hard in spring, coming back over the summer he got really fit and he wanted to see some minutes and he got his chance a couple of weeks ago scoring two goals.”
Since then Gonzalez has seen increased appearances and minutes for the side, and has made the case to be one of Penn State’s more skilled midfielders going forward this year and into the future.
“He’s obviously made the coach's life a bit hard on who to pick for the team,” Molloy said. “He’s a great player, a great guy, so he’s been good for the team.”
In the two most recent games for the Nittany Lions against Detroit Mercy and Maryland, Gonzalez has come on as a substitute and made an impact despite not returning to the scoresheet.
Against Detroit Mercy, Gonzalez came on in the second half and created an immediate creative spark on the left wing, dribbling through the defense and creating chances for himself and the rest of the side.
In the match against Maryland, it was a bit surprising to see Gonzalez come on as a substitute in overtime due to the importance of the match, but Cook trusted Gonzalez and he fit right in, adding life to a tired Penn State attack.
“I thought he made positive contributions [against Maryland],” Cook said. “It's his energy, he’s scrappy, he wins balls and he’s done a good job.”
Gonzalez’s journey from last year to the present has been a hard-fought and at times potentially fruitless one, but now he's poised to be an important figure off the bench for the Nittany Lions as they try to make a run in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament.
“Daniel has earned his spot,” Cook said. “It’s hard at this level because this is not equal playing time, this is Big Ten, NCAA Division I sports, but he’s really worked and used his time well.”