CCL: Herculez Gomez happy to be "behind enemy lines" vs. Seattle Sounders
TORREÓN, Mexico – Two weeks ago, Herculez Gomez was in Mexico looking to help an American squad grab a surprise result against their southern neighbors.
Now, he is on the other side of the spectrum, trying to ensure that a Mexican team avoids that same type of fate against a club from the United States.
It is an interesting and rare dynamic, and one that will play out for Gomez on Tuesday night when Santos Laguna host the Seattle Sounders in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal series (8 pm ET; Fox Soccer, LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com). Santos are up on aggregate 1-0 after defeating the Sounders at CenturyLink Field last week courtesy of a goal from none other than Gomez, but the Mexican club does not intend to rest on its laurels when the ball gets rolling at Estadio Corona.
“Zero-zero ballgame,” Gomez told MLSsoccer.com on Monday. “ We go in with the same mentality. We know that they’re a good club, a good team. We know what we did last game doesn’t mean anything going into this game.
“This tournament is a different animal, a different kind of beast. When you play with these away goals, it can turn on you very, very quickly. We’re hoping we come out tomorrow, we can set the tone, dictate the pace and it will be a favorable outcome for us. Obviously, we know how good of a team Seattle is. I think they’re a very dangerous team, so it’s not something we’re taking lightly. We need to take care of business.”
If history is any indication, Santos should have no problem disposing of the Sounders. Only two MLS teams have ever won in Mexico and Seattle were thrashed 6-1 in a similar CONCACAF Champions League visit in 2012.
Gomez, however, is refusing to look in the rear-view mirror.
“Different year, different series,” said Gomez. “I like to put little motivational things on my whiteboard. The one right now is, ‘Stay in the present. It’s the only moment that matters,’ and that’s the truth. We can’t think about yesterday, we can’t think about last year, we can’t think about last game because this is what’s most important.
“We had the good fortune of being on the right side of things last year but everything could change. We know how big this is. We as a club feel this is an important tournament for us. It’s always nice to think about the past, but we can’t live off the past.”
The just-turned 31-year-old forward may not be looking backwards, but it was not long ago that he was suiting up for the US men’s national team in a World Cup qualifier against Mexico at Estadio Azteca. That big rivalry match was another memorable moment in Gomez’s career, and it provided Gomez a unique experience that will, at least for him, translate into Santos’ clash with Seattle.
“It’s always so interesting when you come into these CONCACAF [Champions] League games with my club Santos because I almost get the sense that this is what the Mexican national team locker room is like,” Gomez told MLSsoccer.com.
“What they say, how they act, how they approach this game. It’s almost like I’m behind enemy walls and now where I’m going into a game where I’m playing against Seattle, I know what they’re going through, I know what they’re thinking so it gives me an interesting perspective.”
He will have the Mexican crowd in his corner while he tries to help move Santos one step closer to becoming CONCACAF champs and booking their place in this year’s FIFA Club World Cup.
“We go out and play football. What happens in the game dictates your next step,” said Gomez. “You can’t go in with a predisposed notion of how you’re going to go about things. You have to go out there, you have to keep playing the same soccer that brought you to that point.
“We’re going to go out there and we’re going to try to play. We’re going to do what Santos does best. We’re going to try and take care of the ball, we’re going to try press teams at home, we’re going to try and make it very difficult for them, put them on their heels and we’re going to try and score goals. That’s what this club does best. The players we have, that’s the best situation for us to go in mentally.”
For Gomez, the match against Seattle holds even more significance than for just providing an opportunity to advance in the competition. The former MLSer has been playing almost non-stop in recent months and he has loved every minute of it.
After all, that type of heavy workload is something that has eluded him for much of his career, something he has always yearned for, and something he is hungry to continue against Seattle and beyond.
“Tomorrow, I think will be my 11th start in less than 40 days,” said Gomez. “On Friday, if I get to play, it will be my 12th in 42, 43. It’s been a lot of games, but it’s been what I’ve always wanted, that consistency.
“I feel like I’ve been building off that consistency and I need to keep doing these right things and need to keep going the right way, because moments like this in your career are few and far between. I definitely want to take advantage of this.”