GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Herculez Gomez has worked his tail off on both sides of the Rio Grande. Whether it was in MLS, the Mexican top flight and now, once again at the international level, the Las Vegas-raised striker has proven and re-proven himself every step of the way.
August 2012 may just be the month that encapsulates just how handsomely the work has paid off. And the Herculez victory lap is only getting going.
Gomez and his Santos Laguna team fly north to the 30-year-old's hometown of Las Vegas this weekend to take part in the small matter of a World Football Challenge match against Spanish champions Real Madrid on Sunday at Sam Boyd Stadium (11 pm ET, Fox Soccer).
As reward for his accomplishments in the world of soccer, local hero Gomez will be receiving a special recognition from the State of Nevada, with exact details to be released at the match. Added to that, the game falls on his father's birthday and is a day after his mixed martial arts-swinging brother Ulysses debuts in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
“To play in front of my friends and family on my dad's birthday against Real Madrid is going to be something really special,” Gomez told MLSsoccer.com last weekend. “I've got a lot of emotions going on.”
Squeezed out of Las Vegas in the hope of forging a living playing professional soccer, Gomez traveled first to Mexico and then on to Southern California looking for a break, with plenty of moments along the way where it simply didn't look like it was going to happen.
When it did, the affable Gomez was already 23 years old as he helped steer the LA Galaxy to a famous MLS Cup and Open Cup double in 2005, his first full season playing top-flight soccer.
Seven years later, Gomez is adamant that the soccer culture in Las Vegas has matured enough to host its own MLS team and sees Sunday's game as a chance to prove that.
“What most people don't realize is that this is sort of like a trial run to see if they can support a MLS team,” he opined. “Do I feel like it could support a MLS team? Absolutely. Would I like to be part of that in some capacity? Absolutely.”
It's not just the Real Madrid friendly that is on the horizon in a busy month for Gomez. There's another game that Gomez has been thinking about a lot: Mexico vs. the United States in Estadio Azteca on August 15.
Although Gomez has yet to hear his name officially called by Jurgen Klinsmann, the man who started both of the USMNT's recent qualifiers in the center forward role has been chewing over the prospect of playing in the Azteca for the Stars and Stripes for some time.
“I've been thinking about this game as long as I've been playing,” explained Gomez, whose parents emigrated to the US from the Mexican state of Jalisco. “It would be a monumental milestone. It'd be a day that I could certainly say that I'd never forget for the rest of my life.”
Gomez enjoyed his recent return to the US fold and says there are similarities between Klinsmann's disciplined approach to the game and those that Bob Bradley employed. But the similarities end there.
“As far as tactical approaches, you're talking about opposite spectrums,” said Gomez.
The 2010 World Cup veteran admits that adapting to Klinsmann's system involves some growing pains, but feels being at Santos – who often employ a 4-3-3 formation – has been helpful.
Gomez regrets not picking Klinsmann's brain more in his last call-up, considering the US coach is one of the legends of the world game and played the same position as the former Galaxy player, but didn't leave empty-handed.
“The one impression I was left with is that you've got to have that hunger, you've got to want it and have the edge,” he explained.
Next up for Gomez is Friday's game against DaMarcus Beasley's Puebla, then it's up to Las Vegas to face Cristiano Ronaldo & Co. Then perhaps a date with El Tri won't be far behind.
That kid who played for the Las Vegas High School soccer team more than a decade ago would probably have to pinch himself to believe it was real.
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.