photo by Patricia Giobetti/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
American soccer fans might best know Gabriel Gomez for his performance in Panama's stunning victory over the U.S. men's national team in the group stages of last summer's Gold Cup. Gomez left his stamp on that game, scoring a goal and setting up another to give Panama its first win over the United States.
Making that type of mark is something Gomez is hoping to repeat during his time with the Philadelphia Union, who he signed with this past December. It is not only a desire for the Panamanian midfielder, it is his objective.
"Wherever I go, I don't like to go as a passerby," said Gomez. "I like to leave an impact, I like to win, I like to push, I like to have that personality to help the team out. That's why I came here: to give my all until my last game with Philadelphia."
Currently in his first season in MLS, the 27-year-old Gomez has already shown glimpses of a player capable of making a lasting impression. He scored the Union's lone goal off a free kick in a 3-1 road loss to the Portland Timbers in the season opener, his debut match in MLS.
Gomez followed that up with an industrious outing in the Union's home opener versus the Colorado Rapids, hitting pinpoint long balls over the top from his midfield position and doing the dirty work on defense against the likes of Jeff Larentowicz and Jaime Castrillon in the 2-1 defeat.
The Union may currently be mired in an 0-3 start to the season, but Gomez has been one of the few clear-cut bright spots for head coach Peter Nowak's team. For his part, Gomez credits his new league with being a difficult one to play in.
"It's much faster, much tougher," said Gomez of the style of play in MLS. "(The referees) let you play more; there's not so much interference. It's very dynamic where there is no room for error because (opponents will) make you pay, so you always have to be concentrated and work to get better every day."
The speed and style in MLS matches might be new to Gomez, but getting adjusted quickly to a new league is something he has done so frequently, even the most grizzled veterans in MLS might be impressed.
Since starting his professional career in 2002, Gomez has played for nearly a dozen clubs spanning countries in Europe, South America and Central America. The 6-foot Panamanian international has plied his trade for teams in his homeland, Mexico, Colombia, Portugal and Cyprus.
Those well-traveled ways are part of the reason Gomez understands just how important it is to transition rapidly into a new league.
"You've got to adapt quickly. There's no margin for error," said Gomez. "I think we have a good group. In these games, the positive results have not come but I have complete confidence in the work we've done, the group, my teammates, the coaching staff, that we are going to get better and that the victories will come."
Gomez also appears to have confidence in something else.
With fellow Panama internationals Blas Perez (forward) and Carlos Rodriguez (defender) signing with FC Dallas this past offseason, Gomez believes the trio of newcomers will win more opportunities in MLS for their compatriots back home, just as Colombians have done in the last several years.
"That is the objective," said Gomez. "We know there is a lot of quality in Panama and we have lacked chances to prove our worth. We are going to open the door for them. I am wholeheartedly invested in helping Philadelphia and I anticipate that as the team gets better, the fanbase will be happy with our work."
Another area that Gomez is working on is the chemistry between he and his teammates. While Gomez has demonstrated an ability to link up well with them thus far, their overall understanding could still be better.
"Learning (English) little by little," said Gomez with a smirk on his face. "It's part of the process. I'm getting better every day, we're understanding each other more and more. But soccer is the same everywhere in the world. The ball is the same. The grass is green. The fanbase is in all the stadiums, so inside there you just try to show your pride and try to demonstrate the positives for the team."
The Union face a very important match on Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps, which feature former Union star Sebastien LeToux. If Philadelphia is going to have a chance of beating the unbeaten Whitecaps and turning their 2012 season around, Gomez will likely be key in making that happen.