“I was two,” he says, smiling at the memory. “My father told me, ‘Don’t let the ball hit the walls.’ That’s how I learned precision.”
The connection went from his foot straight to his heart, where it has remained for the last 29 years.
“Soccer’s in my blood,” he says. “My father, who is from Spain, loves soccer – he even got a college scholarship for it. I became addicted immediately, and I played it in the streets and the backyard all the time.”
Indeed, Jonathan was such a quick study that by the time he was four, the family had moved from Western New York to Clifton, New Jersey, so he could hone his skills.
“Clifton’s known as a soccer town, mostly because of its high school program,” Jonathan says. “It has famous coaches and has produced famous players.”
For those keeping score, Jonathan made rapid advances in the sport.
At five, he had graduated from recreational soccer and received special permission to play on a traveling team comprised of seven-year-olds.
At 13, he had advanced to a national team and was considered one of the top 20 players in America.
“I’ve been the captain of almost all of the teams I’ve been on,” he says, quickly adding that it’s been a humbling experience. “There’s a saying in soccer that you should care more about the name on the front of your shirt, the team’s, than the one on the back, your own.”
At 15, coaches and colleges were courting him.
“I was getting a ton of mail from recruiters,” he says. “I got offered a lot of full scholarships.”
He played soccer all through his years at George Mason University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting with a minor in economics.
Jonathan began his professional career while in college: He signed with the Real Maryland Monarchs.
“I was a player by day and a student by night,” he says.
He then went on to play for Norway’s HamKam, New York Red Bulls, Norway’s Mjøndalen IF, San Antonio Scorpions, Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Miami FC. Since 2018, he’s been with the New York Cosmos.
When Jonathan’s not on the field, he’s coaching other players at the team’s U.S. Soccer Development Academy.
Through SoccerShape, the company he founded, he trains adults in the sport. In Astoria, he gives lessons at the Upper 90 Soccer Center Queens.
“When it comes to soccer, there’s a void in the fitness market,” he says. “SoccerShape bridges the gap.”
The last year has been one of great change for Jonathan. In addition to signing with the Cosmos and moving to Astoria, he wed his longtime girlfriend, Stephanie, who is an elementary-school teacher in Chelsea.
Jonathan’s a pro at soccer, but he’s the first to admit that he’s an amateur when it comes to marriage proposals.
He decided to pop the question on July 17, 2017. There was no particular reason for that date, but he realized later that there was significance because he and Stephanie met, through mutual friends, on July 17, 2008.
Stephanie was in Paris visiting a friend, so Jonathan enlisted her as his accomplice. After a game in San Francisco, he got on a plane and took a taxi to a traffic circle by the Eiffel Tower, a grassy spot he chose because it’s a more private section of the street.
The ring had been in his backpack, but he took it out during the drive.
As soon as the taxi pulled away, Jonathan realized the ring was still on the seat.
“I had no way to identify the driver,” he says. “I had paid cash. I started running in the roundabout with my suitcase and stopping cars; people were looking at me like I was insane. I got half way around the circle and I thought, ‘I blew it’ and started walking back.”
As the minutes ticked by, he weighed his options over and over again: Should he return home and never let Stephanie know he ruined his romantic surprise? Should he meet her and tell her the truth? Should he go back to the drop-off spot in the hopes the cabbie came back?
Then, just like a too-good-to-be-true plot twist in a rom-com, the taxi driver returned and handed him the ring.
“I opened the front car door and hugged him,” Jonathan says. “I told him to drive me to an ATM and I would give him any amount of money he wanted as a reward, but he drove off, saying he was happy to do it for love. Fortunately, Stephanie is known for being notoriously late, so I had an hour to calm down before she arrived.”
Stephanie was surprised to see Jonathan and even more surprised when he got down on his knee and proposed, a moment that was captured by a photographer he hired to record the event.
The wedding was January 19, and “the first thing I did after the ceremony was sign up for insurance for the ring,” he says.
Getting the ring back, getting married, getting to play soccer – Jonathan considers himself one lucky guy.
At 31, he’s the fittest he’s ever been; he can’t imagine a life that doesn’t include time on the field, but he knows he can’t play forever.
“Soccer is the most beautiful thing in the world,” he says. “I see myself as a soccer player and businessman and a good son and now a good husband. I want to be an example to the kids I coach, it’s the most beautiful thing I can do.”
Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyruhling and visit astoriacharacters.com.