GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Herculez Gomez will play the biggest game of his club career since moving to Mexico on Wednesday, with a wave of support from north of the border that he admits is giving him extra motivation.
“People don´t realize not only how moving it is, but how much that helps a player,” Gomez told MLSsoccer.com. “I came from Las Vegas, Nevada, which is not a soccer hotbed, and I didn´t come up through the usual ranks, so to have that kind of support is tremendous and really appreciated.”
The Santos Laguna striker has been given the green light for his team's game against Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions League final first leg on Wednesday, after missing los Guerreros' last two games due to a groin strain.
Gomez stayed in Torreón over the weekend, as his team fell 3-1 in the Estadio Azteca against Club América. But Santos Laguna coach Benjamin Galindo confirmed Tuesday that the only absentee for the trip to Monterrey will be Mexico international Oribe Peralta.
That means Gomez should be set for an opportunity to extend his scoring run of 11 goals in his last eight games, which has sparked calls on social networks and in the media about a national team call-up.
Gomez is buzzing about the two-legged tie and about potentially lifting the continental trophy in the Estadio Corona next Wednesday.
“To be taking part in my first final in Mexico, I can´t tell you how excited I am,” said Gomez. “I´ve had the great pleasure of already winning an individual trophy and I think a team trophy would be amazing, especially in my first season here.”
Gomez helped destroy MLS' hopes of getting a team into this year´s CCL final, scoring three goals in the quarterfinal against Seattle Sounders and another three in the semis against Toronto FC. The goals made him joint top scorer in the competition, despite only having played four games.
The CCL final brings together Mexico's two best attacking outfits this season and two teams that have become increasingly bitter rivals in recent years, partly due to geographical proximity, but also the fact that both have been fighting at the top of the Mexican game. Both sides qualified for this edition of the Champions League by virtue of their appearance in the 2010 Apertura championship, which Monterrey won.
“This is a rivalry game and the fans are stoked,” explained Gomez. “They´ve definitely let me know that this is an important game, not just because it´s a final.”
The 2010 World Cup veteran believes those tuning in are in for a treat, stating that “the average fan is going to win” and that he envisages some great soccer.
A win for Santos Laguna would give Gomez a chance to play at his second Club World Cup in Japan in December. He previously appeared in the 2010 edition of the competition with Pachuca.
The first leg of the CCL final between Monterrey and Santos Laguna is on at 10 pm ET on Wednesday (FSC, Telefutura).
Tom Marshall covers US players in Latin America. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.