TORREÓN, Mexico – Yes, Herculez Gomez, he is most certainly watching now.
With the fan favorite dumping in goal after goal in Mexico, Jurgen Klinsmann recently told MLSsoccer.com that he is monitoring the veteran striker's progress closely.
The US national team boss then reiterated that sentiment in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, hours before Gomez scored yet another goal – and another – on CONCACAF's biggest stage. That now makes 11 goals in eight straight games across all competitions for the former MLS striker.
And after what has seemed to fans like an agonizingly long wait, Gomez can now disclose he has indeed heard from US Soccer for the first time since Klinsmann took over the program last summer. The 30-year-old confirmed to MLSsoccer.com on Thursday that there has been a dialogue, although no phone call as yet.
With a goal every 59 minutes in 2012, Gomez’s performances, assists and goals at crucial moments for Santos Laguna have sparked an inevitable discussion as to why Klinsmann has yet to call up the 2010 World Cup veteran.
Gomez prefers to play down the issue – perhaps the only person in the American soccer scene currently doing so – and instead concentrates on achieving something “special” with Santos Laguna during the home stretch of the Mexican season.
But something special is already happening. Santos fans have taken to the East Los Angeles-born, Las Vegas-raised player in a big way.
After Gomez wrapped a TV interview at the half in Wednesday's CONCACAF Champions League semifinal second leg, the whole stadium rose to give him a standing ovation as he made his way to the tunnel, in full appreciation of his first-half brace. It conjures up analogies of a certain New York Knicks hoops sensation.
“It was a crazy moment,” Gomez told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday at the Estadio Corona, a day after helping his team into the CCL finals. “I’m living a kind of Linsanity out here, and for an American to get that kind of love in Mexico kind of shows how far not only the US has come, but Mexico as well in terms of accepting and embracing.”
It also shows just how far he has come. In less than four months, Gomez has established himself in a team that is one of the favorites for the Mexican title and is in the finals of a continental competition.
That’s not the half of it, either. he has been a vital part of Santos’ drive for trophies, adding crucial goals and assists in droves.
“The thing that I’m proud of is not just that I’m scoring goals, but it’s the kind of goals I’m scoring and the moments I’m scoring,” he explained. “I think that they are goals that are helping my team out, which more than anything gives me a sense of pride.”
After signing a two-and-a-half year contract with the club, Gomez is also at home in the city of Torreón, which has experienced more than its fair share of narco-related violence in the last couple of years.
“The people are the beauty here, they are nothing but humble,” said Gomez, whose parents are from Mexico. “They don’t want trouble.”
Gomez has also made some solid connections with people around the club. He has struck up a friendship with Spanish midfielder Marc Crosas, is on friendly terms with Santos Laguna president Alejandro Irarragorri and dedicated his first goal against Toronto on Wednesday to Darwin Quintero – a gesture of solidarity after the Colombian forward sat out the match following his red card in the first leg.
“I think I’ve found a home here, I’m enjoying my time and I hope it continues,” Gomez said.
Whether he can continue his run of scoring in eight consecutive games will have to be put on ice temporarily – he is out of Saturday’s matcg against his former team, Estudiantes Tecos, with a groin strain that has been bothering him for the past few games.
“I’d like to keep it going but, at the moment, my body is not keeping up with my heart,” Gomez said. "I need to be smart, but I would definitely love for this to continue.”
The only thing missing from these halcyon days is that national team call, something that clearly means more to Gomez than he's willing to admit publically.
“I’m American, you know,” he said. “I’ve had the great honor of representing my country in a World Cup, and I’d love to do it again. If you’re asking if I can contribute in this next World Cup, I’d say absolutely. But it’s not my decision.”
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.