SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. – There is a midfielder in white and blue that bleeds green and red, with a dragon tattoo flying up her arm and a ball running off her feet. Her name is Eva Gonzalez Tate, one of three captains for the Seton Hall women’s soccer team, and one of two that will wave goodbye at the end of the month.
Gonzalez Tate will graduate in May, but because of her involvement in the U-20 World Cup with Mexico during the fall of 2016, she was afforded a redshirt that allows her the chance for one more season in 2019. Despite this, the 5-foot-2 motor in the middle of the Pirates’ formation does not want to delay the next step in her career.
“One of my biggest goals isn’t to play professionally, so it’s not to play and to make a huge career out of it; it’s just kind of, almost, to get the experience,” Gonzalez Tate said. “So, I kind of feel like the longer I prolong it, the harder it’s going to be on my body, especially with how I’ve been feeling this year.
“It’s like, if I can get out there and I can go do it and get five, maybe six years under my belt, let me go and do it, let me go and experience something different.”
In the first eight matches of this season, all of which were draws or decided by one goal, Gonzalez Tate did not leave the field – 780 combined minutes of mileage in one month. After the eighth match on Sept. 16, her motor was burnt out.
Since then, her minutes have been dialed back, with Gonzalez Tate averaging 78.25 minutes over the last four matches. It was not the first time the tenacious Texan hit the proverbial wall.
Towards the end of her redshirted sophomore year, the inability to play for the Pirates, coupled with a constant back-and-forth between Mexico and Seton Hall, left her mentally and physically expended.
“I didn’t even want to play anymore,” Gonzalez Tate admitted. “I was just exhausted, it was with school and with everything.
“I was just like, you know what, I just need a little break. I mean, we all need it sometimes, but that’s when I was really like, just a little break, that’s all I need.”
Gonzalez Tate butted heads with her father over the decision to rest during the summer of 2017. Early on, she received a call from the Westside Timbers, a semi-professional team in Oregon. The Timbers’ coach was eager to bring her in, but she would not budge.
“I was like, ‘I need a little break, it’s not going to happen this year,” Gonzalez Tate said. “Give me a call next year. I’d absolutely love to go.’”
This past summer, Gonzalez Tate received the same invitation and took part. It was around that time when she grappled with her future at Seton Hall, mulling over with family whether or not this fall would mark the end to her collegiate career.
She entered training camp in early August, knowing it would be her last. Her coaches, however, did not know that initially. She waited for the right time to tell her head coach of four seasons, Rick Stainton, that 2018 would be her final run in South Orange.
Stainton saw potential in an 18-year-old Mexican international, nicknamed “Mouse,” who had been overlooked by the American federation due to a lack of size and speed. Gonzalez Tate will remember his advice on the field, but perhaps even more so his outrageous dance moves and dad jokes.
“It’s so hard to tell you his worst [joke], because I think they’re all bad; I think they’re all so bad,” Gonzalez Tate laughed.
“And sometimes, other people don’t even hear him, or whatever the case is, and I’m like, ‘Rick, this always happens where I’m the only person that ever hears it. Or, he’ll dance sometimes, he’ll come downstairs singing and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, did anyone else here that? Was that just me!?”
Gonzalez Tate is a holding midfielder, a “No. 6,” with a scrappy yet sophisticated play-style that has evolved over the last four seasons. She has always been technically savvy, but playing NCAA soccer has added a new layer of strength and athleticism.
Still, the Pirates’ co-captain is not quite a finished player. As Gonzalez Tate eyes a playing career abroad, her head coach is cognizant of the adjustments that she will need to make.
“For me, and I’ve had this conversation, the way the game is going, you always want to try to receive the ball facing forward,” Stainton said. “She naturally likes to have her back facing our attacking end first.
“So, for her speed of play to increase, she’s going to work on, obviously, facing forward while receiving, so that she can go ahead and spray the ball wherever she wants, because she has that ability.”
As she looks forward, with only two home matches remaining and an Oct. 13 Senior Day imminent, Gonzalez Tate cannot help but get sentimental.
“People always say like, ‘Eva, really, really take it all in, because it goes by so fast,” Gonzalez Tate said. “And you’re just kind of like, ‘No it doesn’t.’ But it has gone by so fast. [Senior Day] is going to be so emotional. I know it is.”
She will pass up one final year of eligibility, but the midfielder for El Tri has no regrets ending her collegiate career this fall. By choosing to step away now, Gonzalez Tate has the opportunity to depart alongside many of the close friends whom she entered with; teammates like, Julia Stirpe, Tanika Roach, Anna MacLean and fellow captain Taylor Cutcliff, among others.
Once an overlooked teenage prospect, the midfielder with the dragon tattoo is ready to soar to Europe.
James Justice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII.