SEATTLE – It was a chance Herculez Gomez normally finishes, the kind of opportunity that the Santos Laguna striker has gobbled up since heading to Mexico in early 2010.
Gomez’s run was timed to perfection, and Darwin Quintero’s measured pass into space set him up to take a touch and lash a right-footed shot toward the back post. Only the shot was well wide, and the crowd at CenturyLink Field for the first leg of Santos’ CONCACAF Champions League semifinal series didn’t hesitate to let the American know about it.
Immediately, the chant began cascading down from the Seattle fans stationed behind the Santos goal: “Sounders reject … Sounders reject.”
Reject no more, Gomez is Santos’ lethal weapon against MLS sides in CCL play, and he proved that once again on Tuesday night, making up for his early miss by scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 Guerreros victory that put Seattle in a deep hole ahead of next Tuesday’s second leg in Torréon.
OPTA Chalkboard: How did Gomez fare against the Sounders on Tuesday?
“I love it. Being called a Sounders’ reject – any kind of reject – digs deep. It fuels fire,” Gomez said after the match. “I didn’t have the easiest go at the beginning of my career, so any chance I can get to definitely redeem myself is a good chance.”
Not only has Gomez redeemed himself, he’s become the primary thorn in MLS’ side in the competition, scoring nine goals in nine CCL appearances against clubs north of the border and four in three games vs. the Sounders.
This time around, he pounced on a rebound from a Quintero shot in the 54th minute that Seattle goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann couldn’t handle, slamming a first-time finish into the upper 90 before flexing for the many of the same fans that remember his brief A-League stint with the Sounders in 2003.
Unlike last year, when the Sounders won 2-1 at home in the first leg before bowing out 6-1 in Mexico, Santos head back to the Estadio Corona with a well-earned victory and the odds stacked heavily in their favor.
And although they’re happy with the win, Gomez said there is certainly work to do before the second leg in a week’s time.
“The objective for us was to come out of here with a win. We wanted to definitely put them on their heels and definitely try to go at them at home to set a good tone for the second match,” Gomez said. “We know they’re a good team. We’re happy with our performance, obviously we could do a lot of things better, especially on the defensive side of our organization. But we’ll take the win.”
Check out the full lineups and box score
Next, Santos hope they’ll take possession of one of two spots in the CCL finals against either Monterrey, which defeated Los Guerreros in the two-legged championship series last year, or the LA Galaxy.
They may have recorded their first-ever away victory against an MLS side in the knockout stage of the tournament – thanks to Gomez’s opportunism, of course – but they’re nowhere close to satisfied.
The goal remains the FIFA Club World Cup, and there are still 90 minutes to play against a Sounders side that should have significantly more firepower at it’s disposal come next week.
“This team keeps working for more. Our coaches have kept us pretty humble up until this point,” Gomez said. “We know that we’re playing against a good team. … By no means is this already assured for the next leg. We still have a lot to play for.”