USMNT forward Herculez Gomez says US-Mexico rivalry has changed: "It is not this hatred"
MEXICO CITY – The media has often used the term "war" when referring to the USA vs. Mexico rivalry over the years.
But ahead of Tuesday night's World Cup qualifier at the Estadio Azteca (10:30 pm ET, ESPN and Univision, Live chat on MLSsoccer.com), USMNT forward Herculez Gomez, who plays for Santos Laguna in Mexico, wants to dispel any notion that there's actual hate between the two teams.
"People think it's Mexico vs. the US and they think they've got to hate each other," Gomez said. "No. It isn't like before. It is not like before. It is not this hatred. It is not this spite. These players nowadays know how difficult it is to come through the ranks and know how difficult it is to be where they are and they respect each other for it."
Respect among professionals. That's one of the themes that emerged from Gomez's chats with the media in a Monday roundtable session as well as at the team's walkthrough at the Estadio Azteca.
How much respect does Gomez have for Mexico? He stood up for El Tri and defended them against the onslaught of criticism being hurled by the local press.
"You're the ones who put pressure on El Tri and who put pressure on [Mexico head coach José Manuel de la Torre] and put pressure on the goalkeeper," Gomez told Mexican media at the stadium. "These things are extra football and I'm not interested in discussing or talking about it.
"I think externally they have a lot of pressure on them," he told the US press earlier. "Maybe not within their group because they're a very good group, but externally they have an enormous amount of pressure on them."
Gomez, who considers himself in "one of the most consistent run of forms I've ever had for both club and country," made it clear that Tuesday's game was "business as usual" for him.
And although he plays his club soccer in Mexico and his parents are from Jalisco and used to root for El Tri, he will not shy away from the big moment at the Estadio Azteca.
"It's my job. If I'm the guy, I couldn't be happier. This is what I do for a living and I think they [Mexicans] understand that," Gomez said. "It's empowering to know that one play that you can potentially be involved in can shut 110,000 people up.
"They'll always look at me as a pocho," continued Gomez. "They'll always try to give you a hard time. But those same fans, as soon as you go outside the stadium, if they see you they're the first ones asking for a picture. The first ones asking for a jersey. They want to talk to you. It's just a game. It's business."