CHRISTOPHER MCCOLLUM - Wednesday, April 4, 2012
After another stellar, multi-goal, outing on Wednesday night to lift Santos Laguna into the CONCACAF Champions League Final, YA presents the second part of our feature on Herculez Gomez.
In the previous interview Gomez did with YA during the offseason, he spoke at length about his National Team status and about how he considers himself an ex-National Team player.
Gomez has reiterated this point of view many times during the 2012 Clausura, and that his sole focus is with his club. He has had to deny rumors that he has retired from international soccer, and it is clear that he still wants to be involved in the team, if he was invited back after his extended absence.
The respect that he holds for the National Team and the pride that goes along with representing the United States is evident in the way he talks, and should end all questions about whether or not he still wants to be involved.
"I'd be an idiot not to (accept an invite). If I was given the opportunity I'd run with it. That would be my goal. But that's not the case right now. The case right now is, the only thing I have right now is Santos, so 110-percent of my energy and focus is on Santos. It pretty much is what it is, I find it amusing when I get messages from people asking why I'm retiring from international soccer. Nobody ever said they're retiring. For me, it's a privilege and an honor to represent your country, and it shouldn't be taken lightly.
"So if I haven't represented them in over a year and a half, I don't consider myself part of the pool. I can't say that I'm part of the National Team. I find it a little silly for anybody to say they're a part of something like that when they haven't been a part of it in so long."
It would be easy for Gomez to be bitter about the situation, especially considering that he's been one of the most productive Americans anywhere in the world since he last played with the National Team, but he doesn't feel resentment or ignore the team to keep it out of his mind.
As he says when he's questioned about his appreciation of his fans and what makes him appealing to those fans, he is a fan, himself. Being a fan means supporting your team through thick and thin and Gomez doesn't take the low road to ignore the team altogether, pouting about his lack of selection.
He consistently follows the team, and feels that Jurgen Klinsmann and the players will continue to adapt to each other and eventually pay off down the road.
"He's a new coach, it's going to take time. I think he's gotten a lot of positive things out of the guys he's brought in. So I think from that aspect it's encouraging, obviously as a fan you want to win every game regardless if you play against Cuba or Brazil, but that's not the reality. There's going to be a learning curve, but I think the kids he's brought in have done exceptionally well, I think Clint (Dempsey) has stepped up his role immensely. You can't speak enough about the guy,, the guy's a competitor. You just gotta enjoy watching him, so it's going to be something good for the future. You know, like I said, it's going to be a learning curve, there's going to be some growing pains."
Playing in the World Cup is an incredibly unique experience, and Gomez cherishes having had that experience. The camaraderie that goes along with playing in the most-watched sporting event in the world, the highest honor for a soccer player, is a lasting one that Gomez acknowledges is still there with his teammates from South Africa who are also playing in Mexico.
Thinking about the topic, there's been 364 teams play in the World Cup since 1934. Those 364 teams have all come from 76 nations, and 18 of those nations only made the tournament once.
Without digging too deep into history, about 7,000 or so roster spots were active during that time, and it's probably safe to say that about half of those roster spots were taken up by players who had played in more than one World Cup.
That means somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,200-3,500 individual people in the world have played in the world's greatest sporting spectacle, since its inception in 1934. A very small number, which truly does help to explain why Gomez shares such a connection with his teammates from 2010.
"I think- we've never said it to each other, but I think you're part of a club. Not everybody has the honor that we've had and it kind of- so much time together, and fighting for your country, you build ties with these guys. Paco (Torres) and Beas (DaMarcus Beasley) are guys I keep in touch with, and when we're on the field together, I'm talking trash to Beas during corner kicks and Paco like wise. There's trash talk, there's bragging rights on the line. I mean it's fun, you're playing with your buddies."
One of the games that Gomez used to get into his stride this season came against Beasley and Puebla, and featured goals from both of the Americans. Gomez scored two that game, and it was likely the result that truly began to put him back in the mix for a National Team call up this summer. Gomez and Beasley had a mock-serious moment after Beasley opened the scoring, with Gomez leveling a threat at his buddy.
"Yeah, he scored one and on the next corner kick I congratulated him on his goal and told him not to run for the corner kick or I was going to hit him. He started laughing, and one of the very first plays in the second half I was fortunate enough to score the tying goal, and we had a few words at midfield. It was all laughs, you know. We're competitors, nobody likes to lose. We're friends off the field, but on the field, I want to win more than anybody, and he wants to win more than anybody. The best man wins."
Continuing with the theme of World Cup relationships, Gomez next remarked on Bob Bradley and what the former National Team coach meant to him. Their relationship was one that required a lot of trust and faith on Bradley's part, both for his initial call up in 2007 and then his surprise call up for South Africa.
Gomez had not featured for the National Team in three years, and had dropped completely off the radar with a bad spell plagued by injuries in his final two MLS seasons with Colorado and Kansas City. However, his return to the spotlight in Mexico led Bradley to take a chance on him, and Gomez is thankful for that.
"I'm grateful. I'm grateful for the opportunity he gave me. He gave me the opportunity at Copa America back in 2007, and I mean, he made a really difficult decision and took me to the World Cup in 2010. I was a guy who didn't have a single minute leading up to those qualifiers, and he took me to the World Cup so I'm extremely grateful."
Finally, one of the ongoing heart breaking stories out of Mexico is the continual increase in violence, especially among the border cities with the United States. Drug cartels have been widening the scope of their turf war with each other and even historically peaceful, tourism driven cities such as Acapulco have seen the gruesome aftermath of what happens when one of the gangs in crossed.
With the spread of violence and danger in general spreading further south into previously unscarred territories, Gomez and his Santos Laguna teammates have found themselves ensconced in one of the newly appointed most dangerous cities in the world, Torreon. Gang-related violence has been sky rocketing in the region located a little more than halfway between Mexico City and the Texas border.
Despite the increased infamy of the city, Gomez is quick to point out that, while a fact of life for the world we live in, he has felt completely secure and has never feared for his safety. At least, not while out in public.
"It's just a reality of the world we live in today. I don't think you can hide that from anybody, there's no going around it. There are dangers and insecurities as far as living in Torreon, it's one of the 10 most dangerous cities in the world so it's a reality. I have never felt unsafe here. About as unsafe as I've felt here was after I missed a PK against Chivas, I was getting death threats. Getting death threats from Chivas and I think it was about a week later, heading into Seattle, having a few fans heckle me. That's about it, that's about as unsafe as I've felt. I haven't encountered anything (dangerous). I'm sure, like any city you have your crime, certain things. I'm not going to beat around the bush, this is Mexico. There's a lot of violence going on with certain territorial wars, but I haven't been exposed to any."
Herculez Gomez was left out of the game day roster in order to rest this past weekend against Toluca, but he's expected to be back in the thick of things for the second leg of the Champions League Semifinal against Toronto, in Torreon. Gomez will have the opportunity to score in eight straight games, and reach 10 goals in all competitions, joining Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore as the only Americans playing in foreign leagues to have that high of a goal tally.
A recent Tweet from Jurgen Klinsmann acknowledged that he has been watching Gomez's progress, leaving many fans and members of the media to believe that he will indeed have a call up this summer. With the earliest stages of World Cup Qualifying coming on the heels of a trio of friendlies, Klinsmann will have ample opportunity to call in players who are slightly out of the norm for him. Gomez's experience playing in the tense Mexican atmosphere could be a crucial benefit for the United States as they take a relatively young attacking core of players into Central America.
In defense of Klinsmann, he hasn't had many opportunities to call up Gomez while he's been playing at this level. With the games on the horizon, there will surely be an invitation lying in wait for the man living up to his name, giving him the honor and privilege once more of wearing the Red, White and Blue.