CARSON, Calif. – Herculez Gomez says he's finally ready to go, prepared to do what's needed to win a regular assignment with Club Tijuana and begin impressing Jurgen Klinsmann again, convincing the US national team coach that he deserves careful consideration for a spot in Brazil come summer.
He just needs to see the field, and he'll get his first chance to show his worth to new Tijuana coach César Farías in Saturday evening's friendly against Club América at the StubHub Center. It's Xolos' first preseason friendly after opening camp a week-and-a-half ago in advance of the Liga MX's 2014 Clausura, which starts the first weekend in January.
Gomez hasn't been at full strength since departing the USMNT during the CONCACAF Gold Cup with a knee injury. There was a delay in treatment, and his immediate success for Tijuana when he returned at the end of September didn't help him either.
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Gomez, 31, signed with Xolos at the start of June, but he didn't make his debut until the end of September, when then-manager Jorge Almirón sent him into the club's final CONCACAF Champions League group-stage match against Honduras' Victoria, and the striker answered with a second-half hat trick.
“I don't know if it was the smartest thing,” Gomez told MLSsoccer.com after Tijuana arrived Friday night in Los Angeles for the América clash. “Because I was running on that buzz, that high of coming back and being part of the team, and I did really well in that second half ... but I wasn't ready.
“I think maybe the coach saw the second-half performance and thought I could keep up with the team, so that rehab there kind of took a backseat, and all of a sudden, like, I'm back, and I wasn't, and a little ways down you hit a wall, and you're not right, and I think that cost me.”
Gomez said his left knee began bothering him during last spring's Clausura playoffs while he was with Santos Laguna, and he “kept playing, the whole playoffs, didn't say anything, went to [World Cup] qualifying, kept playing, just something wasn't right.”
He finally pulled out during the Gold Cup, but surgery was delayed while Tijuana, Gomez's fifth Mexican club since departing MLS after the 2009 season, suggested alternative treatments.
“We prolonged it a little longer than we should have,” Gomez said.
He returned to training near the end of September, was told to suit up for the Victoria game so he'd “feel a part of the team,” then was surprised to be thrown into the game at halftime. He appeared in six of Tijuana's last seven games in the fall Apertura, but never was at full strength.
Now that he is, he needs to persuade Farías, the former Venezuela national team coach, that he can be trusted.
“I'm behind the eight-ball,” he said. “New coach comes in, he knows the stories, he knows that I wasn't right last season, so he's taking his time with me and he wants to make sure I'm right this season. So you're already put in a different light. Now I'm doing everything I can to prove that I'm fit and healthy and to get those minutes, and I think that's where I'm at.”
Klinsmann is expected to be on hand for Saturday's game, and that provides extra motivation.
“I think at the end of the day, the best 23 will make the [World Cup] team, the best 23 will go to Brazil, and if I'm one of those guys, I'll be extremely lucky and extremely pleased,” Gomez said. “But nothing's guaranteed. I know that I've got to go out there, I've got to work for a spot.
“I don't know why, but I do well when the chips are down. Right now, that's how it is, and I've got to climb back onto the radar, I've got to do well with Xolos, and I have to get that opportunity.”