Herculez Gomez was under no illusions when it came to what awaited Santos Laguna at BMO Field on Wednesday night.
Gomez scored his ninth goal in seven games to help los Guerreros to a 1-1 away draw against Toronto FC in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals, but was hauled off with bruising from a battle that bore all the hallmarks of a true cup semifinal.
“Coming in, we knew it was going to be tough for us,” Gomez told MLSsoccer.com after the game. “They gave us a good fight.”
The hard-fought draw cements the Mexican league leaders as firm favorites ahead of the return leg in the Estadio Corona on April 4, and Gomez is confident that Santos will come out all guns blazing.
“I don't know if you would call it a good result for them or a bad result for us, but there are still 90 minutes left and we're going to come out with everything,” he said.
After clashing with Toronto goalkeeper Milos Kocic, Gomez said it was coach Benjamín Galindo's choice to bring him off in the 69th minute as a precaution, which wasn’t altogether surprising considering the team has already played seven games this month.
“I don´t know what they saw in the replay, but the ‘keeper left his studs,” explained Gomez. “He's protected himself and caught me in the knee.”
HIGHLIGHTS: Toronto 1, Santos Laguna 1
Gomez later clarified, on Twitter, that he didn't feel Kocic had gone into the challenge with any intent to hurt him.
But before the knock could shelve him, Gomez added yet another goal to continue his fine run of scoring, but the Las Vegas native preferred to give the majority of the credit for his 30th-minute goal to Colombian Darwin Quintero, who provided the killer pass.
“It was 90 percent him, 10 percent me,” Gomez said.
He also lamented the postgame brawl, calling it a shame and saying it’s not the type of thing you want to see on the soccer field.
Gomez did, however, stick up for Quintero, who received a red card after the game, and said he saw the whole thing unfold.
“I saw [Toronto's Ashtone Morgan] strike [Quintero] in the face,” Gomez explained. “It's the classic you react, you get caught. It's a shame the other guy went down like he got shot.”
The World Cup veteran also had some words for any Toronto players and fans who believe that a physical approach next week in the industrial northern city of Torreón will reap rewards for the Canadians.
“I don't know how much you guys know about our home crowd and the city we live in,” Gomez said, “but it's probably not the smartest idea picking a dogfight.”
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional reporting by Aman Dhanoa in Toronto.