By Charles Boehm
Herculez Gomez’s story is easily one of the most fascinating in recent U.S. Men’s National Team history.
An unheralded prospect from Las Vegas, he bypassed the American college system and moved to Mexico City as a 19-year-old to start his pro career with the reserve team of Mexican powerhouse Cruz Azul. Gomez searched in vain for his big break in that country’s league, before returning to the United States to carve out a name for himself as a prolific goalscorer for the semi-pro San Diego Gauchos, helping him earn a developmental contract with the L.A. Galaxy.
Gomez banged in 20 goals in all competitions during his time with the Galaxy, helping them win the 2005 MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup championships, but soon become trade bait as the club descended into one of the most chaotic stretches in its history. A move to Colorado was followed by a serious knee injury, then a trade to Kansas City, where his scoring dried up as coach Peter Vermes decided to play him in midfield and eventually made only a half-hearted effort to resign him when his contract expired.
Undaunted, Gomez moved south again, catching on with Puebla of the Mexican Primera (first division) in 2010 and quickly vaulting to the top of the scoring charts with 10 goals in 15 appearances, becoming the first U.S. player in modern history to lead a foreign league in scoring. Transfers to Pachuca, Estudiantes Tecos and Santos Laguna, his current home, underlined his growing reputation and he continued to score routinely at every stop. Last week his Santos side won the Primera championship, having also reached the finals of the CONCACAF Champions League earlier this year.
Gomez made the United States’ 2010 World Cup roster and played in three of the team’s four matches in South Africa. Yet he was subsequently marginalized and with only nine career appearances to his name for the Yanks, he makes little secret of the fact that he’s felt ignored and overlooked. With strong public sentiment in his favor, he was called into the team’s current camp by coach Jurgen Klinsmann, and he made his first international appearance in nearly two years during the squad’s 5-1 romp over Scotland in Jacksonville, Fla. on Saturday night.
He retains an edgy approach to the USMNT, eager to contribute but keenly conscious of his outsider status, which showed in his lively work rate at the team’s public training session in front of a packed house of some 2,500 fans at the University of Maryland’s Ludwig Field on Monday afternoon, a prelude to tonight’s friendly against Brazil at FedEx Field. Afterwards, Gomez shared a brief but revealing conversation with The Soccer Wire.
The Soccer Wire: This isn’t the norm for US training sessions, is it [referring to the large, fervent crowd at Ludwig]?
Herculez Gomez: Not that I’ve been a part of, but I haven’t been part of many, so I couldn’t tell you!
TSW: But even in the leadup to the 2010 World Cup, you didn’t experience anything like this, right? We heard the team was surprised by the size of the crowd here today.
HG: Yeah, you know, this is definitely new, something that Jurgen has brought into the fold, something new, innovative. But it has its merit. I think it’s always good for the fans and us to have some sort of relationship before the match. When I was growing up, I didn’t have these players to look up to, this opportunity to come and see these guys in person. So I think it’s a great benefit.
TSW: Do you think that the U.S. soccer culture is moving towards what you see in Mexico, with that level of passion to come out for events like this?
HG: Yeah, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Obviously until the game weighs as much in other countries, where it’s part of the economic structure and financial stability of the city and the country, it’s a bit difficult. But it’s definitely something that you don’t see – it’s very nice to see.
TSW: How do you feel personally? Do you have a chip on your shoulder during this camp? Ready to prove yourself to the new USMNT coaching staff?
HG: I think over the last two and a half years, I’ve maintained the same kind of mantra: just go out and work, put my head down and get after it, and whatever happen, happens. I’ve been happy with the way things turned out, and I’m extremely proud and appreciative of the opportunity I have right now. I know a lot of people would die to be in the position I’m in, so I want to take advantage of it.
TSW: You mentioned on your twitter account that you think public outcry for your selection had something to do with this USMNT callup.
HG: Absolutely. I absolutely do. I was on a similar run eight months ago, and nothing happened. And I think people kind of started making noise and clamor in my favor, and the media started doing it as well. It kind of just snowballed and caught fire, and as soon as it caught fire, it was something that I kept feeding off of, their support and their kind words, and I definitely feel it had an influence.
TSW: Could you share any of Jurgen Klinsmann’s message to you upon arrival at the current camp?
HG: As soon as it happens, I’ll share it [smiles]. I’ve only been here for three or four days, so there’s still plenty of time to sit down and talk about my role, if there even is one, which I’m looking forward to. So we’ll go from there.
TSW: Can you talk about the high this team is on from Saturday? Is that the style that Klinsmann wants? Is that what we should expect to see from the USMNT?
HG: I believe the idea is there, absolutely. Whether or not we can execute it game in, game out, that’s definitely something different. The opponents are going to have something to say about that. Obviously we have to be conscious that Scotland is Scotland, and Brazil will be Brazil. So it’s not going to happen all the time, but we’re excited to come out and use it to our benefit, to work on some things, to try to better ourselves and prepare ourselves for these [upcoming World Cup] qualifiers.