Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
LANDOVER, Md. – Herculez Gomez is not unfamiliar with taking advantage of opportunities, and it appears he has made the most of a chance once again.
In his first start with the U.S. men's national team in nearly two years, Gomez put forth an impressive outing in a 4-1 loss to Brazil on Saturday night at FedEx Field that included a goal that trimmed a 2-0 deficit. His 90-minute outing against the Brazilians was also impressive for other reasons, such as his ability to draw fouls and the kind of runs he made off the ball. And all those elements combined may have just won him a starting role with the team for the near future.
"I think we found a striker that is very mobile in Herculez, one that is a fighter, that keeps defenders busy, that is also nasty to do certain things," said head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. "That's important, that's good to see. That gives more movement up front there, because we're not scoring enough goals yet, so we've go to give that message to our strikers to go for it, and Herculez did a good job."
Gomez was handful for the Brazilian defenders from the opening whistle. He repeatedly drew fouls in dangerous positions, and part of that was because of how well he did with his back towards goal. But he was also dangerous attacking the goal, making constant runs against the likes of Thiago Silva and Juan.
Showing those abilities in training during the past week and his experience playing in big games are the reasons Klinsmann said he decided to start the World Cup veteran over youngster Terrence Boyd, who got the nod and fared well in the Americans' 5-1 victory over Scotland this past Saturday.
Klinsmann, however, is not the only one in the U.S. camp to notice those qualities.
"Herc's one of those really greedy goalscorers who plays for the team," said goalkeeper Tim Howard. "He's always looking for goal, he's always looking for that half a yard to get a shot. He came on against Scotland, it was 5-1. He doesn't care, he wants a goal.
"He played well tonight. For a little guy he's strong, he digs his heels in, heads the ball well, he buys us fouls. Herc was good. I like the way he runs the line, he comes inside the defender and then he runs beyond them and he poses problems. And his record in Mexico is fantastic so it just goes to show you."
Gomez's goal-scoring ways in Mexico in recent years have been well-documented. Following a journeyman career in MLS, Gomez was one of three players to share the spoils of the Golden Boot during the 2010 Clausura campaign when he scored 10 goals for Puebla (Mexican international Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez and Peruvian striker Johan Fano were the others) in his first year in Mexico's first division.
That helped earn him a roster spot on the 2010 World Cup team from the United States, and he followed that up with decent stints at Pachuca in 2010-2011 and Estudiantes Tecos in 2011. He then joined Santos Laguna this past December, and he played a role in helping them win the Clausura title this past season.
"I don't think I'm the same player that I was when I played (in) MLS, and I hope it doesn't look like that," said Gomez. "I hope you guys see a man that's kind of grown into his skin, that's kind of taking more of a responsibility and is kind of relishing an opportunity and the challenge."
Gomez pointed out following the loss to Brazil that his time with Santos Laguna was beneficial to his growth as a player. But it also hurt how he entered the U.S. training camp this summer, as Santos won the championship three days prior to Gomez heading to Orlando, Fla.
It is not as if Gomez was out of shape, but he was not up to par with the rest of the American players who had been doing up to three sessions a day with Klinsmann in the hot and humid weather in Central Florida.
"I was kind of behind the eight ball," said Gomez. "I came in and literally an hour after my flight I was doing fitness testing, so I knew if I had any chance of playing in any of these games – and playing against Brazil is something special, and this is a game I wanted to play – I'd have to give it my all and leave it all on these training sessions.
"Thankfully (Klinsmann) gave me an opportunity and whether it was enough to merit an opportunity, I don't know, I still haven't spoken to Jurgen. But I'm excited for the chance to keep working and the chance to keep trying to better myself as a player."
If the past is any indication, Gomez will take complete advantage of that chance.