GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Herculez Gomez’s rollercoaster career was within minutes of arriving at another peak on Wednesday, before three goals in six minutes swung the CONCACAF Champions League final the way of Monterrey, who lifted their third consecutive title.
Santos Laguna were cruising to victory after going 2-0 up right after halftime, but Monterrey came back late on to win 4-2 on the night and on aggregate and will represent the CONCACAF region, once again, at the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco in December.
Gomez came off the bench in the 63rd inside a packed Estadio Tecnológico and played on the left of the midfield, though his role was mainly defensive as Santos attempted to hold on to the cushion and contain Monterrey.
By that point, Santos Laguna were already 2-1 up, with Colombian Darwin Quintero tapping in from close range for the first goal in the 38th minute and Panamana international Felipe Baloy heading in the second five minutes after halftime.
Monterrey pulled one back through a fine left-footed strike from Aldo de Nigris on the hour mark and, while Los Rayados were the team pushing, Santos didn’t look like they were going to buckle.
That changed in the 84th when Neri Cardozo passed the ball past Oswaldo Sánchez into the corner of the net and Monterrey poured forward in search of the goal that would hand them their third straight title in North American's top club competition.
De Nigris got it three minutes later with a glancing header and the tide turned in the Rayados' favor.
Las Vegas native Gomez went down in the box in the 90th and there were shouts for a penalty, but nothing came from referee Marco Rodríguez. Chilean international Humberto Suazo wrapped up the victory right after with a tap-in, after Jesús Zavala squared the ball on a swift counterattack.
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Gomez had played a vital role in Santos making the finals, repeatedly emphasizing the importance of the CCL to the club and himself, especially after the pain of Monterrey scoring late to overcome the Guerreros in the 2012 finals.
The American produced some memorable performances against MLS sides in the competition, with Santos Laguna dispatching Toronto FC in the group stage, the Houston Dynamo in the quarterfinals and Seattle Sounders in the semifinals.
In recent weeks, rumors have swirled that MLS clubs like Toronto FC and Seattle could be interested in bringing him in as a Designated Player, a path that may now be slightly eased without a Club World Cup on the horizon.
Gomez would’ve become only the second American to win the CCL in its present format after Jose Torres, who won it with Pachuca in 2010.
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.