FOX Soccer Exclusive
Gomez reignites career in Mexico
No, the only American striker presently scoring goals at a jaw-dropping rate is doing so in Mexico, where a once-floundering career has found new life and a once-forgotten player has suddenly become a hot topic once again.
Herculez Gomez in action for Puebla against Mexican powerhouse UNAM Pumas.
Luis Acosta / Getty Images
It has almost been five years since Herculez Gomez first burst onto the American scene, a speedy striker who emerged from obscurity to be the leading goal-scorer on a Los Angeles Galaxy team that went on to win an MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup.
Just as quickly as he found stardom, Gomez was wallowing in obscurity again, a converted winger struggling to score goals or make a mark in MLS after a torn ACL sidetracked a career in full bloom.
Five years later, Gomez has captured goal-scoring nirvana yet again, scoring an incredible seven goals in 12 matches since joining Mexican First Division club Puebla FC in January.
He has scored in all number of ways, be it header, tap-in or free kick, and he’s done so against some of the top teams in Mexico. Gomez has done it all despite having managed just seven combined goals in his previous four MLS seasons.
So how has a player who hadn’t scored more than five goals in a season since that magical 2005 season in L.A. recapture his scoring touch? It might have something to do with the fact that he is playing as a forward again for the first time since knee surgery in 2007.
“I’ve always hoped my career would get back on track and get back on track at forward,” Gomez said. “I never thought in a million years that I’d be doing it on this level and things would be unfolding the way they are.”
The 27-year-old Las Vegas native can’t be blamed for still being in awe of his current form. When he signed with Puebla after playing out his contract with the Kansas City Wizards, Gomez was looking to enjoy a new life experience as much as he was looking to revive his career.
He couldn’t have imagined that he would wind up scoring a sizzling five goals in six matches for Puebla, or score a game-winning free kick against Mexican national team goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa to beat fabled Club America, which he did last Sunday.
Gomez is enjoying the moment, but a career filled with ups and downs has given him the maturity needed to put his current form in the proper perspective.
“I’ve learned so much more from my failures than I have my successes and I think everything I’ve gone through in MLS has prepared me for this moment,” Gomez said. “I’m thankful for everything MLS did for me. It made me not only made me a good soccer player, but a good person.
“I wasn’t really thinking I was going to come down here and score a ton of goals and be an important player,” Gomez said. “I didn’t know what to expect.
“Soccer’s been fun again and I’m just enjoying it.”
Gomez endured a rough two years before his recent resurgence in Mexico. The struggles began after what was arguably the peak of his career. He had just made his U.S. national team debut in Copa America, playing against Argentina and Colombia, only to have his year ended by a torn ACL suffered in practice with the Rapids.
Gomez came back in 2008, but didn’t have the trademark speed he was known for. He was eventually moved to a wing midfield role with the Rapids before a trade sent him to the Kansas City. The Wizards had similar plans for Gomez, pushing him to the wing rather than his familiar forward role. Instead of complain, Gomez simply accepted the new role, even as he struggled to make an impact.
"I never really had a real injury before so it really hit me hard. It was a tough time in my life.,“ Gomez said. “I feel like I became a better player for it because coming back I couldn’t rely on my speed anymore. I really had to do things to get by and I think that made me a better player.”
Curt Onalfo didn’t use Gomez at forward during their time together in Kansas City, but he played a major role in helping Gomez regain belief in his ability after the trials the torn ACL put him through.
“I really look up to Curt Onalfo a lot because he helped put a lot of confidence back in me,” said Gomez. “He sat me down and he told me the first week I was down there that my finishing was on par with any national team player he’s seen.
“That was really something that cheered me up and started making me believe in myself again. When things didn’t go well in KC I just kept the faith and kept believing that I could do it.”
Gomez’s faith was tested once again last summer, when Onalfo was fired by the Wizards and Peter Vermes left him on the bench for most of the remainder of the season. Gomez was in the final year of his contract and was told in no uncertain terms that he would be very low on the depth chart if he chose to re-sign with Kansas City. In essence, he knew he had no future with the Wizards.
That development has turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to him. His agent, Richard Motzkin, secured him a deal with Puebla FC in January and while he wasn’t projected to see much playing time on a roster stacked at forward, Gomez has made the most of every chance he has been given.
He scored his first goal, then his second. After a month, Gomez had rattled off five goals in six matches and had Mexican media wondering if he could play for Mexico even though he still hasn't established himself as a regular starter for Puebla.
The inevitable talk linking Gomez to a return to the U.S. national team soon followed, which Gomez certainly hasn’t minded. His Copa America experience was one of the highlights of his life, but Gomez is careful not to get caught up in the inevitable hype.
‘It’s nice to think about it, but I’m trying to stay focused because I know it can all be taken away at any moment,” Gomez said. “This has been such a fun ride that I know if I just keep doing it and keep enjoying myself here then everything else will come.”
MLS: June 23-25
|Thursday, June 23|
|Saturday, June 25|
|San Jose||0-0||LA Galaxy||Recap|
|Real Salt Lake||3-1||Toronto||Recap|
|Sunday, June 26|
|MLS Scores | Table | Fixtures|
If Gomez keeps scoring, a U.S. national team call-up very well could come because the reality is the current crop of forwards Bob Bradley is considering is thin beyond Jozy Altidore.
Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan appear more likely to be deputized at forward if Charlie Davies can’t go considering candidates such as Jeff Cunningham, Robbie Findley and Conor Casey have failed to grab hold of World Cup roster spots.
Gomez acknowledges that his chances are probably slim at this point, but just knowing there is a possibility is enough to give him hope that he might still have a chance to play in a World Cup.
“If there’s a one percent chance, I’ll take that one percent because I didn‘t have that one percent three months ago,” Gomez said. “It’s been a great ride. I’m going to keep doing as much as I can to keep getting noticed by the national team.
“It is difficult, and it will be difficult,” Gomez said of fighting for a place on the national team. “I know it’s really tough because its so late in the process, but I don’t think its impossible and I’m going to definitely keep going every day like it’s my last chance.
“It really is, because at my age its my last chance at a World Cup, so I’m definitely going to give it my all.”
All Gomez can do now is continue to ride the latest wave in a career that has seen its share of peaks and valleys. He is relishing the moment, knowing how lucky he is to be experiencing such an unexpected career renaissance.
“Regardless of how things turn out, this is definitely going to be a moment in my life I’m never going to forget.”
Ives Galarcep is FoxSoccer.com's newest senior writer who will be covering U.S. Soccer and MLS.