Gomez, Saprissa's globetrotting silver bullet
After a decade of wandering, Ronald Gomez has finally returned to Costa Rica and is making his mark for Saprissa in CONCACAF's top club competition.
From Alajuelense in Costa Rica to Spain's Sporting Gijon and Hercules, to the dizzyingly picturesque Greek island of Crete via a trip to Kuwait's Al Qadsia club and Mexico's Irapuato along the way, striker Ronald Gomez is finally back in Costa Rica - this time with Deportivo Saprissa. The 29-year-old striker has chased the round ball many a far-flung mile and his experience is showing in the 2005 CONCACAF Champions Cup.
One of the most well travelled footballers Costa Rica has ever produced, Gomes is also one of the freest scoring. Before leaving the top Tico league in 1996, he was named top marksman with a slew of strikes for Alajuelense - the club he joined as a child. And though his travels abroad were a mixed bag of success and failure, he always kept his eye for goal sharp, winning over supporters along the way.
Though he has earned over 60 caps for the Ticos, he would surely have had more appearances had he not followed his dream of fame and fortune abroad so early. Enough time though to score over 20 goals for Costa Rica, including one against Brazil and one against China in the group stages of the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™. The burly striker is renowned for his ability in front of goal and foraging through midfield to unleash rapacious strikes on unprepared keepers. He was also named to the team of the tournament for the 2002 instalment of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, where Costa Rica reached the final.
So far in the 2005 CONCACAF Champions Cup Gomez has only scored once - a crucial equaliser from the spot against CF Monterrey in Nuevo Leon that saw the match go to extra time and then penalties. Taking the crucial final spot-kick, he hit the net again to send the home crowd into complete despair.
Nicknamed 'the Bullet,' Gomez's long-distance shooting is feared far and wide. And though he has not figured in the final round of Germany 2006 qualifiers for Costa Rica, he showed he still had the international scoring touch when he bagged a goal against Cuba in the preliminary round in June of 2004.
And he is not merely a one-dimensional poacher. His distribution and movement in a provider's capacity - and the worry he causes opposition defenders - have played no small role in seeing Saprissa through to the final.
In the two-leg Champions Cup quarter-final against American MLS outfit Kansas City Wizards, Gomez looked every bit the man of the match on the road in their 0-0 draw. He had two wonder strikes parried by a scrambling keeper, and was a constant threat with his rifle-like long-distance shooting. Wizards' goalkeeper Bo Oshoniyi was thrilled to see Gomez kept off the sheet, but knew he had dodged a few bullets along the way. "Gomez was a real handful with his movement and shooting," he said after the match. "I just did my best to try to keep him out."
In the second leg of the series, Gomez - though held scoreless again - made his presence felt setting up both goals in a dramatic 2-1 victory. The second - in extra time - was a no-look, headed flick-on to the rampaging Gerald Drummond, who made no mistake.
Gomez will be hoping to keep his nerve and make his mark on the final series against UNAM Pumas of Mexico City, which will pit two playing legends-turned-coaches against one another. Hugo Sanchez of Pumas is roundly considered Mexico's best-ever player while Hernan Medford of Saprissa is fabled in Costa Rican circles for his goals - especially the one that handed Mexico their only ever FIFA World Cup qualifier loss in 2001 at the Azteca Stadium.
Medford and Gomez were both members of the Costa Rican side that impressed at Korea/Japan 2002. And when Big Ronald became available on the transfer marker after a stint at Irapuato in Mexico, Medford - who was also known for a global wanderlust in his playing days - jumped at the opportunity to bring him to San Jose.
Though he missed out on the CONCACAF Champions Cup final last year in which his old club LD Alajuelense hammered Saprissa 5-1 on aggregate, 'the Bullet' will no doubt be looking to poke a few holes in the Pumas rearguard in this year's final.
The first leg will take place at Saprissa Stadium in San Jose on 4 May, followed by the return leg at the Estadio Olimpico Universitario in Mexico City on the 11th. With away goals counting no more than home goals, the series is played on a pure aggregate format with the winner going on to represent North, Central America and the Caribbean at the FIFA Club World Championship Toyota Cup to be held in Japan from 11-18 December.