LAS VEGAS – Herculez Gomez and Santos Laguna are the reigning Mexican Clausura champions, and they’ve already taken seven points from three matches to kick off the 2012 Apertura season.
By just about any measure, Santos are one of the heavyweights south of the border, harboring realistic hopes of bringing a second straight Liga MX title back to Torreón.
But they’ve still got unfinished business to attend to outside of Mexico, in particular capturing the CONCACAF Champions League title that barely escaped them in April when Monterrey knocked off Los Guerreros in the final.
“I think it’s the next step for us,” Gomez said Saturday ahead of Sunday’s friendly against Real Madrid in his hometown of Las Vegas. “We want to make this an international brand.”
Playing Real Madrid is certainly a step in that direction, but that won't compare to the attention the club would receive should they find a way to qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup.
As one of the sides fancied to win the CONCACAF's showcase club event, which kicked off in earnest with the start of group play last week, Gomez and his teammates will face Toronto FC and Salvadoran champions Águila home-and-away with an eye toward setting up a return to the knockout stages and, hopefully, a second consecutive final.
Santos ended the CCL dreams of two MLS sides – the Seattle Sounders and Toronto – in the quarterfinal and semifinal of last season’s edition en route to the two-legged final.
And although Gomez, who finished the last season's competition with six goals, recognizes Major League Soccer will be trying to knock Mexican teams off their perch once again this season, he said Santos aim to push any chance of that back at least another year.
“Challenge every Mexican team you can except Santos. I’m still here, and I’m hoping we can take it this year,” Gomez said. “We’re hungry. We want that title.
“I love MLS, I’ll always pull for MLS and I give credit to MLS for making me the professional I am today. But if I have any say in it, MLS hopefully won’t win this year.”
Santos’ CCL campaign starts on August 21 when Águila, whose CCL campaign started with a heavy 5-1 road defeat to Toronto FC on Wednesday, visit Estadio Corona.