GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Herculez Gomez is back.
The 31-year-old forward is inching toward full fitness, at home in his new environs in Tijuana and relishing the challenge of winning his place back in Jurgen Klinsmann’s US national team squad.
After a frustrating few months recovering from a knee operation and watching both club and country from the sidelines, Gomez finally made his debut for Club Tijuana on Sept. 27, coming on at halftime against Honduran outfit Victoria in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Forty minutes later, he’d netted a hat trick -- the first three goals in his nascent Xolos career.
“It’s been frustrating sitting back and watching the team and not being out there,” Gomez told MLSsoccer.com over the phone from Tijuana on Wednesday. “So when I finally got the chance, it kind of just exploded and it just happened to be CONCACAF Champions League.”
WATCH: A day in the life of Herculez (Part 1)
Gomez now has 12 goals in just 17 career appearances in the CCL and he is once again gunning for the title after finishing runner-up the past two seasons with Santos Laguna.
Thankfully for him, Club Tijuana have made it clear they are intent on converting their success in the Copa Libertadores last season into a deep run in the CCL.
“I’m really hoping that with Xolos we can help each other get there,” he said, emphasizing that a second career appearance at the Club World Cup is a major incentive. “Personally, I have unfinished business in that competition.”
And as distant as next March’s CCL quarterfinals are, Gomez has no doubt that a potential matchup against his old club, the LA Galaxy, would be huge in both California and Baja California. But he plays down the significance to him personally.
“For the area it would be big, for me it would just be business as usual,” said the 31-year-old Los Angeles-born player. “It’s always fun to come back home to play in front of your country’s fans, but this is my job.”
WATCH: A day in the life of Herculez (Part 2)
But potential MLS-Liga MX showdowns in the CCL must wait.
Gomez’s more immediate concern is reaching full match fitness, finding rhythm and then cementing a place in the US squad ahead of what would be his second World Cup, although he acknowledges the fierce battle for places.
“I understand that competition is stiff, I understand that we have plenty of good players,” he said. “I also understand that this is the best US pool that there has ever been.
“It gives me great sense of pride that I’m in this pool looking for a spot and things like that fire me up to work even harder.”
Back in Tijuana, where he is currently living, the bilingual Gomez says he is in his element, enjoying the fact that waves of Americans head over the border to Estadio Caliente every couple of weeks to watch Xolos and that he has fellow Yanks as teammates.
“I started with a bang," he said, "and even if I’m behind the eight ball right now in terms of fitness and whatnot, we’re starting something special here."
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.