URI Soccer Star Was MLS Draft Choice

Men’s soccer forward Jeffrey Gonsalves ’07 set three goals for himself before his senior season: Lead the Atlantic 10 conference in scoring, lead his team to the NCAA Tournament, and be recognized as an All-American.

With 18 goals last fall, not only did he lead the league, he also owned the conference scoring title by a good 11 tallies. Add in his five assists and the Markham, Ontario, native totaled 41 points overall—good for second in the nation.

Place a checkmark next to the NCAA Tournament, too. After Rhody claimed its second-consecutive Atlantic 10 Championship—the team’s third title in the last four years—the Rams went on to the NCAAs. And Gonsalves led his team not only to the tournament, but through the tournament with a goal, an assist, and a successful penalty kick attempt.

College Soccer News named Gonsalves to both its pre- and post-season All-America teams in 2006. Sandwiched between those awards were three different National Team of the Week honors, as well as the selection to Top Drawer Soccer’s National Team of the Season.

Looking back on his pre-season to-do list, the two-time URI captain was a perfect three-for-three while picking up the A-10’s Offensive Player of the Year award along the way.

In an October 2006 interview with his hometown newspaper, The Markham Economist & Sun, Gonsalves stated, “Soccer is my life, and I hope to take it as far as it will let me. I want to play at the highest level possible.”

With postseason awards rolling in and an invitation to the Major League Soccer Combine, Gonsalves seemed to be on the right track—until he came down with mononucleosis weeks before the Combine. “I was unable to train or do any sort of physical activity for about a month,” Gonsalves explained. “I lost 10 pounds and wasn’t in the condition I was during the season.”

“Deciding not to go to the Combine was a difficult decision to make,” he added. “It would have been great to get a chance to play with all of the draft prospects and see how I compared to the future talent of the MLS. But between being ill and unable to train, I knew that if I went, the risks would probably outweigh the benefits.”

In the days leading up to the MLS SuperDraft, he was ranked ninth among eligible players and third among all forwards despite being unable to showcase his talent for the league’s 13 coaches.

“Jeff had a great senior season and established himself among the nation’s best talent,” commented head coach John O’Connor. “Going into the draft, people already knew what kind of player he was regardless of whether he went to the Combine.”

But would his reputation alone be enough? As Gonsalves watched the draft from his parents’ home in Ontario, he saw 10 forwards picked in the first two rounds. Five more went in the third round, and still his name was not called.

“It was a great deal just to be rated that high entering the draft,” Gonsalves explained. “You work so hard throughout your career to be the best player that you can be. To have other people recognize all the hard work that you put in—that alone is very rewarding.”

Even more rewarding for the 20-year-old secondary education major was hearing the words: “With the 40th pick, the Toronto FC selects, from the University of Rhode Island, Jeffrey Gonsalves.”

“When I first got drafted, my cell phone and home line did not stop ringing with everybody calling to congratulate me,” Gonsalves recalls. “It was overwhelming.”

Toronto coach Mo Johnston, who heads up the expansion team in its inaugural season, was pleased that the Rhody standout was still available at the start of the fourth round. “Gonsalves scored 18 goals this season for Rhode Island, and I know that if he had come to the Combine, other coaches would have been all over him,” Johnston stated.

“I could not have asked to be drafted into a better situation,” Gonsalves said. “The most obvious advantage of going to a new team in the league is that there isn’t a set lineup so everybody is on a fresh slate. In addition, I’m from the Toronto area, so getting the chance to play at home, in front of my family and friends, makes it even more special.”

But what about the family and friends that he will leave in Kingston? “I have developed many lifelong friendships at URI, and I will never forget the good times and memories that I’ve made here. Rhode Island soccer is full of tradition and pride, and when you put on that uniform, you not only represent your team, you represent all of the past generations of URI soccer.”

In Gonsalves’ four years at URI, the Rams captured three Atlantic 10 titles, made three NCAA Tournament appearances, and posted four consecutive seasons with 10-or-more wins.

Additionally, he was named to six different All-Tournament teams, received three A-10 Player of the Week awards, two ECAC Player of the Week awards, three NSCAA/Adidas All-Region honors, and eight different National Honors. With 107 career points, he ranks fifth all-time in the Rhode Island record books and first on the career/games list, having appeared in 88 matches.

Gonsalves credits much of his success to the support of his teammates and his parents. “The honors, awards, and recognition—all of those things belong to my teammates just as much as they belong to me because none of what I’ve done would be possible without them. And my parents have been the driving force since I first started playing; they pushed me to excel in soccer and in life.”

A leader by example, Gonsalves is one of the rare breed of athletes who is able to balance team and individual success. Reference again that October interview: “Soccer is my life and I hope to take it as far as it will let me. I want to play at the highest level possible.”

Postscript: Gonsalves was not named to the final Toronto squad for the 2007 season. But those who want to catch a glimpse of one of Rhody’s all-time greats can see him in action in East Providence with the Rhode Island Stingrays of the Premier Development League.

By Jodi Pontbriand