GUADALAJARA, Mexico – When Herculez Gomez wandered out of the Santos Laguna locker room on Sunday to speak with awaiting members of the press, he sported a hoarse voice and butterfly stitches on his forehead, picked up from a flailing elbow.
The US international had just played the full 90 minutes for los Guerreros in a bitterly disputed 3-1 victory over Atlas at Estadio Jalisco to reach the Liga MX semifinals. Now, once again, Gomez is the only US national teamer still in the race for the Liga MX title.
“We’ve just put away a very good team, so we’re happy,” explained the 31-year-old after the game, "but we’re more happy with the character we showed, especially when a lot of people were doubting us, which is really laughable when you think what we’ve done over the last few years."
Gomez switched from the right wing to the left frequently during the match, forcing a fine save from Miguel Pinto from a close-range header in the 23rd and picking up a yellow card two minutes before halftime for tripping right back Guillermo Martin.
Santos Laguna benefited from Pinto getting sent off for a hand ball in the 24th with the score at 1-1 and picked off Atlas through two second-half goals from Colombian Darwin Quintero.
After starting 15 of Santos’ 17 Liga MX regular-season matches this Clausura, Gomez was happy to be back in the starting 11 after getting less than 10 minutes to impress in last Thursday’s first leg, which ended 0-0.
Santos Laguna now move forward to play Cruz Azul, with the first leg in Torreón on Thursday and the return in Mexico City next Sunday.
“This is when that attitude, that drive, that hunger you see in players comes out,” said Gomez. “It’s like any sport, the NBA, the NFL – this is when you see the big-time players and I think people should enjoy it.”
And while the playoffs are going on, Gomez is keeping his cards close to his chest regarding his future, despite rumors in the US press linking him with a return to MLS.
“I’m just enjoying the ride now, just having fun,” said Gomez.
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.