Gomez living his unexpected dream
Las Vegas native, MLS alum Herculez Gomez realizing dream of playing in Mexico
After 7-year MLS career, Gomez moved to Puebla of the Mexican Primera División
Former U.S. international found home with club that has fielded several MLS alums
As a child in Las Vegas, Herculez Gomez fell in love with soccer. Daily, he worked on his love, consumed it and let himself dream of a day when he would make it big.
Unlike many American youngsters, though, his dreams didn't culminate with him playing for a storied European club. Instead, the Mexican league was his big-time, Estadio Azteca was his theater of dreams.
As a youngster, Gomez honed his talents and polished his trade, and his motivation paid off as he broke through with Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy and became a professional soccer player. After several years of toiling in MLS, Gomez has fulfilled his other dream as well.
Gomez is now a full-fledged Mexican soccer league player. Just after the New Year, Gomez quietly joined Puebla of the Mexican Primera División after two seasons with the Kansas City Wizards.
"It's been awhile since soccer has been fun," Gomez says. "I'm living my dream and I hope to give a lot to the people of Puebla."
If Gomez, 27, were to land with any Mexican club, it was no surprise he landed there. He had played for Puebla's reserve side nearly a decade ago, but la Franja has provided a landing spot for MLS exiles. Ex-FC Dallas captain Duilio Davino combined with former Rapids washout Daniel Osorno and former FC Dallas and Chivas USA midfielder Ramón Núñez to guide Puebla to the playoffs in the Apertura 2009 season, while Puebla also offered former MLS scoring ace Carlos Ruiz employment.
Other MLS players' moves drew more attention: Ricardo Clark to Eintracht Frankfurt, Stuart Holden to Bolton and Cuauhtémoc Blanco to Veracruz. But it was Gomez's switch which was the unlikeliest of the lot. After all, to take a step up in leagues despite being a role player on a bad MLS team is a bit of an accomplishment in and of itself.
To Gomez, though, it's far from where he got his start, but just another unlikely step in a career filled with surprises.
"I've always dreamed of playing at a high level," he says. "I'm sure if you ask many people what the level is like in Vegas, they'll kind of laugh. I'm just happy I've gotten as far as I've gotten."
Scrawny but speedy as a teenager, Gomez made his way down to Mexico and was within reach of his dream. In '01, he joined Cruz Azul Hidalgo, reserve side of the famed Máquina Celeste powerhouse of Mexico City. But picking up and moving from the U.S. to Mexico was difficult for Gomez, and he bounced around to two other lower-division clubs before moving back stateside.
In '02, Gomez started to make a name for himself. On a semi-pro team called the San Diego Gauchos, Gomez drew attention for scoring at a rapid pace. After knocking in 17 goals and catching the eye of MLS scouts up Interstate 5, Gomez eventually landed a spot with the Galaxy.
Three years later, he was one of the league's best young players and would have won Rookie of the Year, had he been eligible. He scored 11 regular-season goals and helped the Galaxy win MLS Cup '05 while bagging another four and helping L.A. win the '05 U.S. Open Cup.
His MLS career regressed after that, however. He scored five goals in '06 and was traded before the '07 season to Colorado. He scored four goals that season and midway through the '08 campaign he was dealt again, this time to Kansas City. In 34 games with the Wizards, he would score one goal.
Instead of his preferred position as forward, Gomez moved all around the midfield which contributed to his lack of production. Still, Gomez's sagging output didn't put a halt to his dreams. Instead of looking at his statistics, Gomez used the same formula he once did to find success -- he banked on his skills to get him ahead.
"I have certain attributes that would be beneficial to clubs in Mexico," Gomez says. "It's been a while since I played forward ... but I enjoyed myself in my debut. It reminded me of my old days when I would just run at guys."
Because of the style of play in Mexico, Gomez was able to adjust quickly to his new teammates. He also was instantly drawn to Puebla's scrappy and underdog characteristics.
"Soccer is a lot more technical, a lot more touching the ball," he says. "But this team is different than a lot of Mexican teams. We have a lot of heart and a lot of bite and it's pretty cool being on a team like that."
Fittingly, Gomez made his Puebla debut at Home Depot Center where he rose to prominence with the Galaxy. He appeared for Puebla in the Copa Libertadores-qualification InterLiga tournament and came off the bench in the first three games of the Bicentenario 2010 season. For his fourth game, Gomez earned a start and responded with his first goal of the season, a header off a set piece.
Puebla is now his stomping grounds, and Gomez intends to make his presence felt.
"I've done some pretty cool things in my career," he says, "but I don't think I'm done yet."