BRIAN SCIARETTA - Monday, May 16, 2011
After struggling early in the season with Pachuca, US national team forward Herculez Gomez is hoping that a strong final two months will put him on the US Gold Cup team and keep him at his club next season
Gomez, 29, began this Mexican season after competing in the club at the FIFA Club World Cup in November. By playing in that tournament, the club's preseason was cut short and the team lacked cohesion to start the Clausura.
Gomez's season took a turn for the better when Pablo Marini resigned as Pachuca's head coach and Efrain Flores took over. Under Flores, Gomez began to excel and the team started to win games again.
While the new coaching staff improved results, Pachuca's initial deficit proved insurmountable. The team finished at the bottom of Group B in the Clausura with 18 points in 7 games and Gomez found the back of the net four times in the final five games.
"It was obviously a tough season for the team and for me personally," Gomez told YA. "We didn't have a preseason so we didn't have the cohesiveness that we would have liked. Once that coaching change was made we got the right balance of positivity going our way. In the end it was too little, too late. But I saw a great reaction and change in our group. I liked what I saw."
Gomez's improved play was the result of wide range of factors. Flores has confidence in Gomez from the very start and also trusted Gomez to play him at forward in his natural position.
Almost immediately Gomez's playing time increased. First he was coming off the bench as the first sub, soon after he was starting.
"I think it was a combination of things," Gomez recalled of his improvement under Flores. "A new coach comes in and was like ‘I know you. I remember you.' We need to get you back confidence-wise at where you need to be. It definitely helped to know the man in charge has confidence in you. It wasn't just confidence, but it was mutual respect and I was playing for a guy who just respects my game. I wanted to work hard for him. "
The respect and the confidence quickly translated into goals in rapid succession and for Gomez, having earned the trust of the coach relieved the pressure.
"One went it, and he told me more would come," Gomez stated. "And it did. Then he gave me a chance to start and when I was starting I felt like I didn't need to keep looking over my shoulder feeling I needed to prove myself. I was just playing."
Soon after the conclusion of the season, Pachuca made headlines throughout Mexico when they placed the entire team on the transfer list. It was an act that shocked many fans but Gomez took it in stride.
As a veteran of eight professional clubs ranging from lower levels of the US, to MLS, to the Mexican Primera, Gomez is aware of the business side of the sport. He knew the club was trying to send a message.
"When they made the announcement that everyone was on the transfer list, it just kind of told me that they definitely want to send a message that this last year has been unacceptable as far as results for the team," Gomez discussed. "It's a big club and one of the biggest in Mexico. So it is message understood. I am sure there are some guys who are feeling uneasy but for me it's nothing new."
As for where Gomez feels about his personal future, he hopes to return to the Hidalgo-based club and doesn't feel personally slighted by being placed on the transfer list. His discussions with the club's management following the season were positive and it left Gomez with an optimistic feeling.
"I had a meeting myself with the club a week before they made the announcement," Gomez said of his standing at Pachuca. "It was about my future and they made it clear they didn't want to sell me but if an offer came about that was good for the club, they would take it. I understand that and I know where they're coming from. It's part of the sport."
Gomez's strong conclusion to the season has seen him become a possible candidate for the US Gold Cup team this summer. With Jozy Altidore, Juan Agudelo, and Teal Bunbury likely to be selected, the fourth striker spot on the team is wide open and the likely candidates are Gomez, Edson Buddle, and Charlie Davies.
Gomez has played with the United Sates at the 2007 Copa America, the 2010 World Cup and a few major friendlies. He has yet to play against a CONCACAF opponent and the chance to play in the Gold Cup with a potential final against Mexico is a dream for him.
"I'd love to be in a tournament like the Gold Cup and play against some of these teams and know that if we do well, we could meet up against Mexico in a very important game," Gomez pointed out. "That would be a dream for me. I want to play as many games for the US national team as possible."
As for whether or not he has done enough to make the US team, Gomez knows it will be a challenge. He also feels that he has to keep proving himself more frequently to be awarded international caps. He is okay with his situation but either way, he will be entering into the Gold Cup with a lot of confidence if he is selected.
"I've come to terms that I am one of those players that just has to constantly be putting the ball in the back of the net to even be considered," Gomez admitted. "It's kind of the hand that's been dealt to me. I'd like to prove it at the international level and I still don't think that I maybe get the credit that other players would get. But I'm okay with that. I'd like to keep trying to prove it."
Gomez has a lot of advantages working in his favor in the effort to make the roster. He is older than most of the other forward that are being considered for the team. He is currently playing with a lot of confidence and he has a considerable amount of big game experience after playing in the World Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup.
"I'm a hard worker and I know my game is very blue-collar," he described of his game. "I think Bob [Bradley] appreciates that type of player and that's the mentality of the US team. I do feel that I can contribute. It's not going to be easy to get on the roster, there are a lot of quality players and a lot of young guys stepping up but I definitely feel I have what it takes to keep contributing."
It was just one year ago when Gomez put together a dream season for Puebla when he scored 10 goals for a share of the Mexican scoring title. That effort forced US head coach Bob Bradley's hand and Gomez was named to the World Cup roster.
This season could once again do the same for Gomez as a similar effort could see him get included into the Gold Cup team.
One thing Gomez does not want to have is the label as a streaky player. He feels that when he has a coach who believes in him and he plays his natural position as a forward as opposed to a winger, he can consistently contribute.
"I am going to be honest," Gomez said frankly. "People keep calling them these hot streaks. I just want to be given a chance. I just feel that if someone says that ‘this is my guy,' I can really do something. I hate the word ‘streaks', but with forwards that's just the way it is,"
"I get into these moments where I know if I get on the field and I even get just a half-chance," he concluded. "I feel really confident. When things are going like that for me, I am a very focused and hungry player. I can definitely help a team out. I just feel in the moment. Things just feel more natural and easier. It definitely helps to be injury free and playing around the box."