Throughout the entire preseason, the player that most represented Chivas USA was Francisco Gomez. Coaches raved about his experience, front office people marveled at his professionalism and teammates talked about his leadership.
Since then, however, Gomez's production has been next to nothing. Less than 30 minutes into his Chivas USA career, Gomez sprained his knee and ankle in a collision with D.C. United's Alecko Eskandarian.
And until Sunday, Gomez was essentially a fan on the sidelines, rooting his teammates on while helpless to stop the bleeding.
"I was good for about 30 minutes," Gomez said. "Then fatigue kicked in. Five weeks off without any type of physical activity, it's tough coming back. It was good to get 90 in and start working harder and get some games in and get my fitness back."
Wednesday, Gomez appeared in his second Chivas USA match. The former Wizards midfielder played the final eight minutes in the club's 2-0 loss to Real Salt Lake.
"(It) feels great to return to the field and now we have to step up our level of play," Gomez said after the match.
Gomez said he hoped to help the team raise its level of play. Watching the club go through their early-season growing pains was difficult.
"It's real tough. I'd been waiting for that moment all my life and to go down in the first 30 minutes, it was tough for me," Gomez said of his season-opening injury. "Watching my team go through the times we're going through ... and not being able to help them out in that aspect, getting out on the field and helping them out, it's tough. But I've got to be out here outside of the field to get my teammates going and I've got to do my part."
For Gomez to get back into the starting lineup might seem difficult. Over the past two weeks, Chivas USA coach Thomas Rongen has insisted that his starting lineup stay intact to help develop some continuity and understanding. However, against Real Salt Lake, Alfonso Loera was sent off and will miss Sunday's game against FC Dallas.
Rongen could fill Loera's central defender spot with Douglas Sequeira, who has played as a defensive midfielder the last four games. That would leave the door open for either Gomez, Jesus Ochoa or Aaron Lopez to start at defensive midfielder. All three have started in that spot during the course of the season.
Fitness level, not a starting spot, is more of an issue for Gomez.
"Right now, I'm not really worried about (starting)," he said. "I'm just concerned about getting my fitness back and helping my team little by little. Whether it's 10 minutes, five minutes, 15 minutes, whatever I have to do right now."
Whatever happens with suspended or injured players, Gomez said he does not expect anything to be handed to him.
"How do you get a spot? You earn it," Gomez said. "I've got to work hard and hopefully I can get my spot back."
Luis Bueno is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.