Five finals in the past three years speak volumes, with Santos Laguna’s eye-catching and attacking brand of football keeping them regularly involved in the business end of the Mexican championship and continental competitions in the North, Central America and Caribbean Zone.
One of the key cogs in their smooth-running machine is Herculez Gomez, the Los Angeles-born striker among the varied and valuable options Los Guerreros can call upon in attacking positions.
The current focus for the USA international and his club team-mates is the CONCACAF Champions League, where Santos are at the midway point of their semi-final tie against Seattle Sounders. Ahead of the sides’ second-leg meeting in Mexico on 9 April, FIFA.com spoke exclusively to 31-year-old Gomez.
A winning habit
Just six points behind the leaders in the Mexican Clausura and in the last four of the region’s biggest club competition, Gomez believes Santos’ achievements are down to hard work and strength in depth.
“Santos are a big and well-run club in the Mexican game,” said the forward, whose professional debut came with the now-defunct San Diego Gauchos in California back in 2002. “We’ve got a pretty complete side, and I’m not just counting the 11 starters. I think the fact we’ve got competition for every position really helps when we’re competing for two or three trophies a year.”
And it is not just Los Guerreros who are thriving on all fronts, with Gomez too at the peak of his individual prowess: “Physically, mentally, confidence-wise and in terms of the football I’m playing, I think I’m doing better than ever,” said the well-travelled forward, who will go down in history as the scorer of his side’s 1,400th goal. “I’m at a stage of my career where I’ve achieved consistency. It’s not been easy, but I think I’ve finally got there.”
Winners of the Clausura 2012, in January 2013 the Santos helm was taken by Portuguese coach Pedro Caixinha, a previously unknown figure in the Mexican game. Despite early scepticism, time and the club being in the running for two major trophies has proved the board right in their choice of supremo.
“His system and his working methods are very new to us,” said Gomez. “The squad have taken everything very calmly and shown the best possible attitude. Everything we’ve achieved has come through hard work, so his appointment has worked out pretty well for everybody.”
In last year’s edition of the CONCACAF Champions League, Santos fell just one step short of clinching a spot in the FIFA Club World Cup 2012 after losing the regional final against fellow Mexican outfit Monterrey. Yet life sometimes gives second chances and Los Guerreros are back in the semi-finals once more, and against a Seattle Sounders side with whom Gomez has a personal connection.
“I was pretty young and went on loan to them [from Los Angeles Galaxy],” said the forward, on his brief spell in Seattle ten years ago, when the club was still in the lower leagues of USA's professional hierarchy. “It was a really nice city, the club was well-organised and the people and the president all treated me very well. They’re continuing to set an example in the MLS, thanks to all they’ve built up in the few years they’ve been going.”
Squaring off in the competition’s other semi-final are Monterrey and Galaxy themselves, with the former leading 2-1 from the first leg at home. Faced with the prospect of potentially meeting Santos' conquerors from last year’s CONCACAF decider or another of his former clubs, Gomez preferred to focus instead on tonight’s opponents.
“What’s motivating me is trying to beat Seattle,” he said. “I think we’ve got to show them a lot of respect because they’re not going to make it easy for us. I don’t want to think about Monterrey or anybody else for the moment.”
Though Gomez is wise to be cautious, the outlook does look good for Santos Laguna, who were 1-0 winners away from home in the first leg, courtesy of a strike from the man himself. And, having appeared at the FIFA Club World Cup in 2010 with Pachuca, Gomez would dearly love to do so again in December 2013 – via a CONCACAF Champions League triumph.
“It [reaching the FIFA Club World Cup] is a wonderful feat, that doesn’t happen to everybody,” he said, as the interview concluded. “If you look back at my career and my CV, it’s an achievement that stands out pretty well. Getting there again would be another little gift from God in my short life so far.”