Opportunity knocks for Chivas USA's Gomez
For Francisco Gomez, the differences between the Kansas City Wizards and Club Deportivo Chivas USA could not be more pronounced.
At Kansas City, Gomez was just another player in the Wizards' cache of weapons. At Chivas USA, Gomez is suddenly an elder statesman and is mentioned in the same breath as a Mexican legend.
"If you look at experienced players, you look at Martin Zuñiga, Ramon Ramirez, (Alfonso) Loera, Ezra (Hendrickson) and Paco (Gomez). They're really the heart and soul of the team," Chivas USA coach Thomas Rongen said. "That's important to have those kinds of players, to have a mixture of experience and good young players and that's what we have."
In fact Ramirez -- a two-time World Cup veteran -- has already acknowledged Gomez's stature. In a friendly against UCLA on Friday evening, Ramirez handed Gomez the captain's armband when Ramirez was removed in the 68th minute.
"Out of respect, Ramon gave him the armband," Rongen said. "It's a pretty nice gesture."
But while teammates and coaches praise Gomez, all the former Wizards midfielder hopes for is a chance to display his skills.
"My goal always is to start on the team and to be a big part of the team," Gomez said. "With my experience and the time I've been in MLS, hopefully that will be the case."
Of Chivas USA's 23 current players, only Hendrickson and Orlando Perez have logged more MLS minutes than Gomez. So far this preseason, Gomez has been a key part of the club. He started each of Chivas USA's first three friendlies, scoring a goal and setting up two others in wins against the San Diego Gauchos and Loyola Marymount. In the club's 5-0 win against UCLA, Gomez helped stop the Bruins' attack from his right midfield position.
Though scoring has not been his calling card, Gomez does plenty of other things that will help him in his fight for a starting spot.
"He's a guy that can help us move the ball well," Rongen said. "He's good at maintaining possession, he strikes a good ball over distance and he can get players sprung behind the back four. He's done a pretty good job."
Gomez, 26, was chosen seventh overall in November's MLS Expansion Draft. The Watsonville, Calif. native has fit in well with the club.
"I think it's everything and I expected and more," Gomez said. "Getting an opportunity to represent a club like this is something special. It's been a dream."
Despite his MLS credentials and experience, Gomez said he doesn't expect to have a starting spot handed to him. The bottom line is performance and knowledge of the game.
"It's an advantage (having played in MLS) but everyone knows how to play the game and I think that's all that matters," Gomez said. "Maybe (I have) just a little bit (of an advantage), knowing how the game is played in the U.S. Other than that, I think everything's about the same."
With Kansas City in his past, Gomez looks forward to opening the season with Chivas USA.
"It's definitely a more attacking team," Gomez said of his new club. "Kansas City emphasizes defense a lot more. Here it's more my game, more an attacking game."
Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.