GUADALAJARA, Mexico — Herculez Gomez is about to embark on a fifth campaign with a fourth different team in Mexico’s Primera División. But he’s relishing the opportunity to fight for titles with new club Santos Laguna, who ticked all the right boxes when it became clear to the World Cup veteran that he was on his way out at Estudiantes Tecos.
“Santos was the total package as far as level of play, opportunities to play, international competition, a respected club,” the 29-year-old Gomez told MLSsoccer.com on the phone from Los Angeles on Tuesday. “I just felt it was the right move.”
With three playoff finals appearances in the last four seasons in Mexico's top flight, los Guerreros are one of the country's most competitive teams in recent years and showed a great deal of interest in Gomez despite being immersed in the Apertura 2011 finals last week.
“They were in the middle of a final and, on the other side, they were trying to get me,” said Gomez, who has a total of 22 goals in 60 games (21 starts) in the Primera División. “It definitely made me realize how serious these guys were and how much they valued me as a player and person. They made a great effort to bring me there.”
The move to Santos – a team that only two years ago built a brand new 30,000-capacity stadium – will naturally mean there is fierce competition for a spot in the starting lineup, but Gomez is confident in his own ability and work ethic.
“I'd like to think that the internal competition is a benefit to the team and will keep everyone on their toes," Gomez said. "I'd like also to think that I'm no slouch myself and that, in the two years I've been in Mexico, I've made a mark for not only myself and my family, but also the United States in general.”
Gomez, who will head to the northern Mexican city of Torreón for Santos’ preseason training starting on Dec. 26, is hoping his team will challenge not just the Mexican title, but also the CONCACAF Champions League.
A twist of fate means Santos face the Seattle Sounders in the quarterfinals on March 7 and March 14, and Gomez is already looking forward to it.
“Seattle has got great fans, some of the best in [MLS], if not the best,” said Gomez, who spent an injury-hit couple of months in 2003 on loan from the LA Galaxy with the then second-division Sounders. “There's a great atmosphere. It's going to be a very good game and a very good test for both teams.”
Before that doubleheader lies the challenge of integrating into the Santos setup and scoring some goals. That task starts on Jan. 7, when Santos open their Clausura 2012 campaign against one of Gomez's old clubs, Pachuca.
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.