LAS VEGAS – Herculez Gomez didn’t train on Saturday, a normal precaution after starting against Puebla in Mexican league play Friday night, but there was nothing that could have kept him off the field Sunday evening in front of almost 30,000 of his fellow Las Vegans.
With Real Madrid in town for the second stop of their North American tour, Gomez lived out what could only be described as a dream, starting and playing 74 minutes against the Spanish champions in front of a large contingent of his family and friends in the city in which he was raised.
“It was amazing,” Gomez said following Santos’ 2-1 defeat. “It’s always good to come back home and [to] come back under these circumstances is extremely special. Not everybody gets this chance.”
Perhaps the only thing that could have made it better was a goal, which would have been fitting considering Gomez’s scoring record the past few years and his uncanny timing and knack for the dramatic.
WATCH: Gomez puts chance wide of net
Alas, that part of the fairytale wasn’t to be, leaving Gomez to lean on the dogma that got him through some lean times in Major League Soccer before jump-starting his career in Mexico.
“[It’s] part of the game, part of being a forward,” he said. “You’ve got to keep going. You’ve got to keep plugging away and sooner or later that ball will go in. That’s always been my motto.”
All things considered, Gomez wasn’t in the mood to nitpick. Nor should he have been. Regardless of the result, this was a night to remember, one in which he thought Santos acquitted themselves well despite succumbing to a bizarre game-winner that deflected off Sami Khedira’s face.
Gomez played as a lone forward for manager Benjamín Galindo, with Darwin Quintero and Cristian Suárez providing service on the flanks and Daniel Ludueña directing traffic in the center of the park. In between his two chances on goal – an attempt to punish Iker Casillas for wandering off his line and a left-footed shot pulled wide – Gomez forced Madrid into foul after foul, seven in all.
He also got a bit of payback after being on the receiving end of a yellow-card tackle by Esteban Granero in the first half, bowling over Pepe in the 66th minute to earn his own caution.
“That’s my position. When you play that No. 9 role by yourself, you’re going to do a lot of dirty work,” Gomez said. “You’re going to take a lot of fouls. That’s part of holding the ball up. I’m not that big of a guy, but I’d like to think I can do my job. It comes with the territory.”
As did the love he received from him home crowd, which was was peppered with the green and white of Los Guerreros and rewarded the American international with a warm reception during introductions and throughout the match.
“The crowd was good, the atmosphere was fun and our opponent was very good,” Gomez said. “But I think we came away show the crowd and showing them some good things as well.”