D.C. United's newest signing, Argentinian playmaker Christian Gomez, was saddled with plenty of hype when he arrived in the nation's capital.
After months of searching and speculation about the player who would fill the team's second senior international spot, United unveiled Gomez on Aug. 14 after a 2-2 home draw with New England. The former Arsenal (Argentina) and Independiente midfielder was touted as the answer to United's offensive inconsistencies.
But the 29-year-old playmaker had to immediately face a series of obstacles to success in MLS. He was out of shape after a long break since the conclusion of the Argentina Primera Division season, he spoke little to no English and had never before played outside his own country.
"It's a big step for me to come to the U.S.," he said through a translator. "It is two different cultures. (But) I wanted to leave Argentina, to play in another country, and the opportunity presented itself. The league opened the door for me to come, something that I wished for, to play overseas. It's a big challenge for me, and I'm happy to be here."
Gomez also had to quickly mesh with a team that had been together for months and was in the midst of a stressful, up-and-down season. Veteran striker Jaime Moreno was one of the first players to welcome him to the Black-and-Red, and others have followed suit.
"Little by little, I am getting to know the city and fit in with the guys," says Gomez. "The people that work here have tried to make me feel at home: Cisco (team equipment manager Francisco Tobar), (technical director) Dave Kasper and others have helped me get into a house and buy furniture, stuff like that. A couple of people have gone out of their way to help me out, and I appreciate that."
Gomez has worked hard to learn the United system and incorporate himself into the side. He has earned a starting slot as attacking midfielder in coach Peter Nowak's possession-oriented 3-5-2 style, connecting well with Moreno and giving opposing defenders another creative player to be reckoned with.
The experienced midfielder admits to having had some uncertainty about the style and intensity of MLS before he arrived.
"The league does not get much coverage in Argentina," he says. "I knew of players like Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno and Hristo Stoitchkov that were playing here. As far as the view of Argentinians towards the league here, I think there's a belief that you can come and play here, that it's not as difficult."
But Gomez's experience in the U.S. top flight might surprise some of his countrymen back home.
"The reality is, now that I'm here, it's tough," he said. "It's a different style from the league back in Argentina; here, you've got to go all out the full 90 minutes, back and forth. It's a lot more physical.
"You've got to think, you've got to know where the ball's going to go before you get it. You don't have the luxury of time; you always have someone on you, if not two or three people. (In Argentina) it's not the same; there you have the time to get the ball, look, and play it. (So) I've experienced myself that it's a lot tougher than they think."
The inevitable price for Gomez's exciting move abroad, one to which U.S. players overseas can certainly relate, has been painful separation from loved ones.
"I miss my family the most," he admits. "I'm very close to my entire family -- my wife and kids, my brother, my mother and father. Being away from them (is hard). But I realize that I came here for a new adventure, to start something new, and this is part of the sacrifice you have to make."
For now, Gomez is focused on learning the MLS style and continuing to guide his new team towards a playoff berth.
"These people have welcomed me with open arms and helped me every inch of the way," he says. "I hope that can contribute to the team in a way that can repay them."
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.