Postcard from Mexico: Gomez's future up in the air
GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Five months ago, Herculez Gomez moved from Pachuca to Estudiantes Tecos, eager to impress in the state where his parents were born, hoping for more first-team minutes and with a burning desire to get back into the US national team.
Since then, he has fallen in love with the city of Guadalajara, been the club’s top goal-scorer and has one of the highest ratio of minutes-played-to-goals ratio in Mexico’s top division.
But the last five months haven’t all been rosy. Gomez, 29, was relegated to the bench after the coach who brought him to Tecos, José Luis Sánchez, was fired back in August, and "Herc" has faced an uphill battle since. Then there has been the disappointment of not making it into Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT plans.
In all, it’s been a topsy-turvy season for Gomez, and the offseason promises to be just as unpredictable, with a move away from Tecos a possibility for the 2010 World Cup veteran.
“If there’s an offer that benefits the club, they’ll pursue it,” Gomez admitted to MLSsoccer.com by phone this past weekend from his hometown of Las Vegas, where he’s spending the first week of his offseason. “I could find myself sold to another club that might require my services.”
After two years playing south of the Rio Grande, first with Puebla and then Pachuca, Gomez is open to opportunities outside of Mexico, where he could experience a new soccer culture and, in his words, “hopefully get the attention of the national team.”
“I could be ready to leave if the right opportunity came along,” he said. “I’m at the point where, after two years in Mexico, I feel like I’ve represented myself and American soccer in a good way.”
Gomez is quick to point out that the Apertura 2011 regular season has only just finished and, at this point, nothing has been defined. An added twist is that even if the club doesn’t sell the Bicentenario 2010 season's top scorer, Gomez still could be forced to move.
Reports have circulated in the Mexican press over the last month about Estudiantes Tecos being bought and moved away from Guadalajara, with Acapulco the most heavily touted destination.
“It would be a shame for the city to lose a team with so much history” said Gomez. “But that’s part of pro sports.”
If Gomez does leave Mexican soccer for new shores, he will do so with an enviable scoring record. A goal every 123 minutes during his two years down south compares favorably to the careers of some other foreign-born strikers that have become figureheads of the Mexican Primera División.
Ecuadorian Christian Benítez has a goal every 158 minutes for Santos and Club América, while Chilean Humberto Suazo has one every 148 minutes for Monterrey.
The stats have not been enough to get Gomez into Klinsmann’s reckoning, however, and with the US national team about to play friendlies against France and Slovenia, Gomez is again restricted to watching from afar.
“I felt like that what I needed to do was keep putting the ball in the net, and I’d get called in,” he said. “It’s a very American thing, but numbers speak for themselves.”
The former Galaxy, Rapids and Wizards man says he has had no contact recently with US Soccer regarding his national team situation, but believes he has to be scoring and playing regularly as a minimum requirement.
“I want to be consistent,” he said. “I’ve learned that to do that here in Mexico; I need to be a regular, I need to be constantly making headlines here. I want to be that with the national team. I feel like I can only get better.”
Whatever the striker’s next step turns out to be, Gomez has already thought about what to do when his career ends and has a specific mission in mind in Mexico.
“I see myself representing the Chicano community in this market, and help them out in bridging the gap between growing up in the US and playing down here,” said Gomez. “There are so many American kids down here in academies.
“You have no idea how often I hear kids at stadiums yelling, ‘Herc! Herc!’ And then I’ll go talk to them and they’ll tell me they’re from Orange County or San Diego or South Texas or wherever. I see a big need to help them.”
While Gomez could work representing Americans in Mexico, he salutes MLS for helping him develop as a player and sees a big future for soccer north of the border.
“MLS is going to be really big, it’s going to be huge,” he said. “Just not immediately. Guys there are still playing their first professional game at age 22. At Pachuca, I knew a guy on my team who played his first game at 15. That’s just the culture here and it hasn’t changed yet in the US.”
Tom Marshall can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional reporting by Jonah Freedman.