LANDOVER, Md. – Despite being a 30-year-old World Cup veteran, Herculez Gomez played the part of an unproven kid when he arrived at US men's national team camp in Orlando last weekend.
“I was kind of behind the eight ball,” Gomez said. “I came in and literally an hour after my flight I was doing fitness testing. So I knew if I had any chance of trying to play in these games, I had to give it my all during the training sessions. Thankfully I got an opportunity.”
He did. And then he cashed it in.
Making his first start since the 2010 World Cup, Gomez scored the only goal and was one of the few bright spots for the US in an otherwise disappointing 4-1 loss to Brazil on Wednesday at FedEx Field.
Afterwards, US manager Jurgen Klinsmann praised Gomez’s toughness – just moments after saying the rest of the team lacked that very quality.
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“I think we found a striker that is very mobile with Herculez – one that is a fighter that keeps defenders busy and is also nasty to do certain things,” Klinsmann said. “That is important and good to see.”
Klinsmann cited Gomez’s strong performance in camp as well as his experience as reasons why the 30-year-old got the start over 21-year-old Terrence Boyd vs. Brazil. The situation was revered Saturday against Scotland with Boyd starting and Gomez coming off the bench.
“He knows how to handle himself in big games,” Klinsmann said of Gomez. “Terrence is a player to build. He has huge potential but is very raw still.”
Despite Gomez’s talent and experience, he’s only earned 10 caps for the US. That means he needs to continue to play like he did against Brazil, when he provided the team with the kind of movement and mobility in the attacking third that they desperately crave. The Santos Laguna striker easily could have added at least more goal but he had a hard shot saved in the 77th minute, among other near-misses.
“We’ve known him for a while,” US captain Carlos Bocanegra said. “You can see his energy level, his willingness to chase down dead balls, making nice runs. He’s clever. And when he gets a shot on goal, he has a great strike.”
When asked why someone like him doesn’t have more caps, Bocanegra shrugged.
“It happens,” he said. “A guy like Jozy Altidore comes in and does very well for the US team and it’s hard to move someone like that. That’s the thing – you don’t always get your chance with the US team. When you do, you’ve got to take it.”
And now that Gomez was able to take advantage of one opportunity, all he asks for is another one.
“I’m hoping Jurgen liked what he saw,” Gomez said. “I tried to leave it all on the field.”
E-mail Dave Zeitlin at firstname.lastname@example.org.