One thing that always holds true for Santos Laguna forward Herculez Gomez is perseverance. After eight years in Major League Soccer, the final four of which included a lengthy injury lay-off at Colorado Rapids and a disappointing stint with Kansas City Wizards, Gomez packed his bags and headed south of the border for Mexico.
Few MLS clubs expressed interest in the Mexican-American forward following his 2009 campaign with the Wizards (now Sporting Kansas City), but Gomez was undeterred in his desire to continue playing at professional level. This was a dream he not only had for himself as a child, but one that his father, in naming him Herculez, had hoped he would achieve as well. “My dad always wanted me to be a footballer and wanted to give me a name that stood out,” Gomez told FIFA.com. “It’s not a very forgettable name.”
And stand out he did. The Los Angeles-born striker signed for Puebla, joining up with the club in January 2010 for the Clausura campaign, where he not only enjoyed an incredible strike rate off the bench, but claimed top-scoring honours with ten goals in 15 appearances. Gomez tied with Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez and Johan Fano, marking the first time an American has led a foreign league in goals scored.
“I was kind of thrust into the spotlight and now everybody who knows soccer will know my name around here,” Gomez said about his success with Puebla. “That’s been something that still to this day takes some getting used to.”
It was the first time Gomez had shone so brightly since a standout season in 2005 with Los Angeles Galaxy in MLS, and it was enough to spark the interest of then USA coach Bob Bradley as he defied the odds and made the national squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Seeking Santos glory
Since reaching football’s greatest heights, making three appearances with the US in South Africa, Gomez went on to play for Pachuca at the 2010 FIFA Club World Cup in United Arab Emirates, before moving to Estudiantes Tecos and then embarking on his latest adventure with title-chasers Santos Laguna.
Santos is based in Torreon, a city in which narcotics-related violence has greatly affected its population, but Gomez saw little disadvantage in joining a side with a history of vying for titles on multiple fronts. Los Guerreros, who last won the Clausura in 2008, are among the frontrunners in Mexico this season and are also set to resume play in the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals tomorrow.
“As soon as I stepped foot in Torreon, I’ve been treated with nothing but kindness and respect and that’s all a footballer can ask for,” Gomez said of his move to Santos. “I’ve been very appreciative and very blessed with how easy it has been. Now I’m just sitting, kind of patiently waiting to get my run.”
Gomez has settled in quite well at Santos, most recently scoring in a 5-2 win over Real San Luis in his first start for the club. However, as Gomez himself was quick to note, he is never one to take his chances for granted and, while boasting an unmatched goalscoring rate off the bench, he is constantly fighting for more minutes. “I’ve always been a player that keeps working no matter what,” Gomez said. “I’m just looking for more opportunities so I can keep proving that I’ve had a very good time here in Mexico. And the ownership made a huge effort to bring me down here, so I want to repay that effort.”
Gomez has his sights set on winning silverware with Santos, along with winning a ticket to the next FIFA Club World Cup, although Los Albiverdes must first get past a few hurdles in the CONCACAF Champions League to achieve the latter aim. In fact, Gomez himself is looking forward to a return to the US for the first leg of Santos’s tie against former club Seattle Sounders in the last eight.
“It’s going to be fun,” Gomez said, relishing the chance to play in front of Sounders coach Sigi Schmid, whom he played under during his first season at Los Angeles Galaxy in 2002. “I always enjoy going back to the States, and Seattle is such a beautiful city. I have old friends and old team-mates that play for the Sounders now, but once that whistle blows it’s going to be all business.”
Scoring can’t be denied
With lofty ambitions to impress this season among the region’s elite, Gomez has faith that his resolve to reach his best potential with Santos could earn him another shot under new USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “I’d like to continue to try to compete and earn a spot on the men’s national team for my country,” Gomez said.
“I definitely have to keep working hard and I’m a forward, I’ve got to keep putting the ball in the back of the net. No matter how many times they deny you, sooner or later, if you’re the only guy putting the ball in the back of the net, they’re going to have to give you a chance. That’s the way I see it, so that’s what I’m going to keep doing.”
USA are on a four-game winning streak under Klinsmann, and Gomez is keen on seeing what the German can do, hoping the coach gets a “fair shot” at rebuilding the national side. “It’s still my country, I want to see them do well, but I want to be part of it.” And, the 29-year-old, when asked if he felt he would be ready for Brazil in 2014, laughed: “I feel like I’m 19-years-old right now! I think I’ll be ready in two years.”