Postcard from Mexico: Gomez feeling at home with Tecos
GUADALAJARA, Mexico — Herculez Gomez is ready for yet another fresh start. That’s nothing new for the veteran striker, who is on his third Mexican club in 18 months after leaving behind an eight-year career in Major League Soccer and has made the most of his chances at every turn.
Gomez has been banging in the goals this preseason for his new team, Estudiantes Tecos, and is eagerly anticipating his team kicking off the Apertura 2011 Mexican Primera División on Friday evening.
"For the amount of minutes played and for the goals I’ve scored, I feel really confident," a relaxed and talkative Gomez told MLSsoccer.com after training on Wednesday afternoon.
Tecos are very much Guadalajara’s third team behind Chivas and Atlas — they’re an unfashionable but close-knit outfit with a 20,000-capacity stadium and one championship in their 76-year history.
Facing a relegation battle over the next 12 months, coach José Luis "Chelís" Sánchez has invested in 11 new players, most of whom have a wealth of experience.
“I’m 29 years old and I’m one of the young guys here,” laughed the Los Angeles-born, Las Vegas-raised Gomez.
Nevertheless, the forward views his move from Pachuca as an opportunity and feels he is in exactly the right place.
"I think it is my type of club,” he explained. “It’s my mentality: blue-collar, roll up your sleeves, don't mind getting dirty, do what it takes to win type of team, and that's the way I was brought up.”
The striker has been tried as a lone striker in friendlies and in training and, although Friday's game against Toluca will reveal a lot as to where Gomez fits into Sánchez’s plans, he says he has been shown nothing but respect and love since he arrived at the club.
An added bonus from the move for Gomez is that his mother and father are from Jalisco, the state of which Guadalajara is capital.
"To finally see where my parents grew up and the kind of culture that influenced them as people and to be around that, it was different for me,” Gomez said. “Living in different parts of Mexico, I felt like a foreigner, but I don't really feel like a foreigner here. I feel very much at home."
Gomez says he has no personal goals for the season aside from staying healthy and playing as much as possible. But although he may have a laid-back outlook on the matter, a call-up to Bob Bradley’s US squad for its friendly against Mexico on August 10 in Philadelphia would "mean the world" to him.
"I’ve never played against a CONCACAF opponent,” he said, “and the one CONCACAF opponent I really want to play against is Mexico."
It would also help him exorcise some demons as a member of the US national team. Watching last month’s Gold Cup final from afar in Mexico was torture for Gomez, who went wild when Michael Bradley headed the US in front, but was distraught as Mexico launched their comeback.
"I was thinking, ‘I wish I was there,’" he admitted.
That sentiment isn’t all that different from the one recently made by fellow Mexico-based American Edgar Castillo — but Gomez says he’d never go so far as to criticize a player’s performance, as Castillo did of the much-maligned Jonathan Bornstein. The New Mexico-born left back told reporters that Bornstein was in part to blame for Mexico’s comeback and that he could’ve done a better job.
"Things like that on a personal level really, really get at me," vented Gomez. "You can’t blame one person for a loss, no matter how good or bad the performance."
Gomez launched a staunch defense of Tigres UANL defender Bornstein, his teammate at the 2010 World Cup.
"There’s a reason Jonny has played almost 50 national team games,” Gomez explained. “There’s a reason he has played in a Confederations Cup, a World Cup, a Copa América and three Gold Cups. Those aren’t flukes. The kid constantly has to prove himself and he constantly does, and that is something that I admire in him."
The American from humble beginnings perhaps sees something of his own story in Bornstein’s struggle for recognition.
"I’ve never had the benefit of the doubt, anywhere I’ve been," said Gomez, who seemingly came from nowhere to make the US’ World Cup squad last summer. "I’ve had to prove myself at every level I’ve been at."
Coming down to Mexico in January 2010, Gomez was simply looking for an opportunity after being made available for transfer from the Kansas City Wizards. He talks of his positive and negative experiences in Major League Soccer and recently wrote a blog post about the struggle to make it as an American youth player earning very little money and loaded with a large degree of uncertainty.
Following the wave of young Americans predominantly of Mexican descent currently popping up at various Mexican clubs’ youth systems, Gomez holds no punches in pointing out what he believes are the reasons behind it.
"It´s an opportunity [for them]," he explained. “I strongly believe the Chicano player is falling through the cracks in the US soccer system. The best soccer players didn’t play in [the Olympic Development Program]; they couldn’t afford it.
“A large majority of us were Latinos. So with soccer being such a huge business and market as it is in the States — the No. 1 youth sport in the country — sometimes those Latinos who don’t have the funds fall through the cracks. So [moving to Mexico] is the opportunity for them, this is their way of trying to make a living out of the sport."
The latest American to join a Mexican side, Puebla’s DaMarcus Beasley, is a rare breed for an American in Mexico: He has no Latino background. Friends since their days in US set-up, Gomez says he didn’t really need to sell the Mexican league to the Indiana-born Beasley, who was intent on coming despite other offers.
"Man, I hope DaMarcus has a positive impact," said Gomez. "He’s such a unique player and he’s had a couple of years where people haven’t favored him or given him the respect I think he deserves, so I’m hoping he explodes out here."
Gomez has asked Beasley to bring him a US national team or Puebla jersey with Beasley’s name on the back to wear when the former Chicago Fire player comes to Guadalajara on Saturday for his team’s game against Atlas.
The future for the eloquent and clearly soccer-mad Gomez? He would like another move in the future to another country, another footballing culture, although he won’t specify where. He’d also like to return to MLS but doesn’t know whether it would be in a playing capacity or working for the league in some way.
"I go with the wind," he smiled.
Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter: @mexicoworldcup