CCL: Gomez expects challenge from unpredictable TFC

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Santos Laguna may be heavy favorites going into Wednesday’s CONCACAF Champions League semifinal against Toronto FC (8 pm ET, Fox Soccer, LIVE CHAT on MLSsoccer.com), but Herculez Gomez still believes the Canadians pose a genuine threat to the Mexican side’s CCL ambitions.

The real question for Santos is which Toronto FC side will take the pitch at BMO Field. Will it be the one that defeated the LA Galaxy to make it this far? Or will it be the team that is still pointless in MLS play?

“I expect a very tight game,” Gomez told MLSsoccer.com from Toronto on Monday evening. “I think their form has been very Jekyll and Hyde, and a team like that is dangerous. You don’t know what to expect.”

Santos Laguna, for their part, eased past Seattle Sounders in the quarters, defeating them 6-1 in Torreón after losing 2-1 at CenturyLink Field, while Toronto FC overcame a Galaxy team that was expected to brush them aside.

“They’ve beat a good Galaxy team to be in the semifinals, so we know it’s not going to be easy,” Gomez said.

Although Santos could have faced freezing temperatures and the freezing wind blowing off Lake Ontario onto the BMO Field, the weather is expected to be temperate, with the high projected at 65 degrees and the low as a palatable 37.

No matter how the conditions end up, Gomez says his team won’t be pointing to colder conditions than they are accustomed to as an excuse.

“I don’t like the cold, that’s why I spend as much time as I can on a beach,” he said with a laugh. “It’s not going to be fun, but it is what it is. The conditions are the same for all the players.”

The Las Vegas-raised World Cup veteran believes the tie will come down to a mental battle, rather than a tactical game of chess between Aron Winter and los Guerreros coach Benjamín Galindo.

“I think this game is about who wants it most,” said Gomez. “These semifinals and finals rarely go technically to plan and its more about mental toughness and awareness and concentration.”

On the injury front, Toronto FC may be without key pair Torsten Frings and Stefan Frei, but Santos Languna will also be without regular starting midfield Juan Pablo Rodríguez (suspension) and playmaker Daniel Ludueña (rested for the long trip north), not that Gomez foresees a major problem.

“I’ve never been on a team where competition is so steep, on all lines,” he said. “I think we’ve shown that when people have been absent, others have stepped in and done very well.”

On a personal level, Gomez comes into the game on a hot streak to rival any on the continent, with eight goals in his last six games, despite playing mainly on the wing for the majority of those matches.

The 29-year-old says the quality of his teammates makes his job easy, but Gomez is reveling in being a regular starter with the Mexican league leaders and is more than playing his part in the team’s quest for silverware.

“I’m having a blast, and I think that’s the most important thing,” he said.

Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America. E-mail him at tom.marshall.mex@gmail.com.