LAS VEGAS – Everywhere Herculez Gomez goes here, the fans follow. He’s a local boy, after all, with a warm personality Las Vegans can identify with and the kind of success story that bridges cultures.
Saturday afternoon, Santos Laguna made an appearance at the Fremont Street Experience, where Los Guerreros conducted a meet-and-greet while a cheerful Gomez was surrounded by camera-clutching autograph seekers clad in green and white.
Saturday evening, it was more of the same at the UNLV soccer complex in the shadow of the Strip, where Gomez watched his teammates train before mingling with the enthusiastic masses until the team bus finally blew its horn to signal the end of what turned into another memento-seeking free-for-all.
In what was likely the only lamentable moment of the day, Gomez’s younger brother, Ulysses, fought his first-ever UFC bout 300 miles away in Los Angeles, losing by knockout in the first round.
On the other hand, Gomez told MLSsoccer.com that April 6, his birthday, will be known as “Herculez Gomez Day” in Las Vegas, an honor that speaks to the level of admiration surrounding the plucky local forward.
“Whirlwind is an understatement,” Gomez said describing his weekend during a rare moment of peace.
And if that wasn’t enough, Gomez and his Santos teammates are slated to take on Real Madrid on Sunday in the 2012 Herbalife World Football Challenge with family and friends in the stands at Sam Boyd Stadium (11 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer) supporting him while his father celebrates his 60th birthday.
“It’s a very special weekend. Not only for myself, but for my family,” Gomez said. “It’s tough to put into words. I knew the sport back home was big, I just didn’t know it was this big. I’m very touched. I’m very honored.”
To make things even more special, Gomez started the weekend by scoring his second goal of the 2012 Apertura season on Friday against his former team, Puebla, where he turned in the season that transformed him from a relative unknown into a proven commodity.
Two weeks from now, he’ll likely have the opportunity to step out onto the Estadio Azteca pitch wearing his nation’s colors against Mexico in a match that promises to be anything but friendly. And a week after that, Santos starts their quest to capture the CONCACAF Champions League title that eluded them last season.
It’s almost enough to make Gomez lose sight of the moment. Almost.
For this weekend at least, it’s all about Gomez, his family and friends and the city of Las Vegas, a community that’s clearly taken great pleasure in honoring one of its own.
“It’s not everyday you get to experience this in your hometown,” Gomez said, “let alone such an important city like Las Vegas.”