After the match, Gomez will prepare for his Liga MX schedule. Throw in a couple U.S. MNT friendly games at the end of May and beginning of June and cap it off with three 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers and you officially have one busy schedule. Gomez, who scored Santos’ lone goal in the 1-0 victory in the first leg in Seattle, took time to speak with ussoccer.com about playing against Seattle, scoring against MLS teams and preparing for the long summer of soccer ahead.
What is your general mindset going into the game against Seattle on Tuesday, knowing that Santos is up 1-0 on aggregate?
Herculez Gomez: “I guess for us, we have to eliminate the first leg from our memory and just go in as if it’s a must-win game. It’s very plain and simple. We have to win. We win, we’re in. We have to factor in that away goals can harm us, that they’re a very good team, that they still have the ability to harm us and, like I said, we have to take care of business because we’re playing at home. We know how physical these types of games can be so we definitely want to put them on their heels and impose our football on them.”
Are the Santos fans going to give the Sounders as much of a hard time as the Sounders fans gave you in Seattle?
HG: “The Sounder fans didn’t really give me a hard time in Seattle but I know our fans will give them a hard time here. Playing in this region isn’t the easiest thing in the world and I honestly don’t feel they feel this type of pressure week in and week out. I think it could definitely be an important factor for us.”
So far, you have scored nine goals in all CONCACAF Champions League matches and all nine have been against Major League Soccer teams. Are you trying to
keep that streak alive of scoring against MLS teams?
HG: “I’ve only played against MLS teams, really. It’s just the way it is. I want to do well every time that I’m on the field and it just so happens that I do enjoy these big moments in these CONCACAF games and MLS teams have done well to get into these big moments and for whatever reason it just happens to be that way. I don’t go in thinking it’s an MLS team and I have to go out and have to punish them or do anything like that. I’m just thinking that I have to do my job.
“I’ve never shied away from saying MLS made me the player I am today, but I’ve also never shied away from saying that I felt that maybe towards the end I didn’t get treated fairly. So any chance I do get, and especially because I do play in a different league and for most of the people in the States, this is going to be a chance for them to see me in my element with my club team. I do know that people back home are watching. I always want to show well for my family, I want to show well for my friends, I want to show well because I want a good representation of who I am and what I stand for. I think it’s always important, whether it be CONCACAF or National Team or club, that you try to put your best effort forth. It just so happens that I’ve been fortunate with these MLS teams. I don’t really have a rhyme or reason for it, it just happens to be that way.”
How does playing in the CONCACAF Champions League help the National Team player pool, not just yourself, but National Team players playing for MLS
HG: “Very rarely will you play in a hostile environment week in and week out, especially in MLS. So given that you now have to opportunity, playing in these different types of environments, with different types of fan bases, with climate changes, you’re already getting the preparation for what it’s like to be in those National Team qualifying phases. When you play in this region it could be snow like we did in Denver, to all of the sudden, altitude like we did in Mexico City and hostile crowds. These are teams you’re going to face, so I think it’s almost in a sense preparation for these National Team players that play in MLS.”
Normally when you’re with that National Team, you’re more well-known as a forward. But these last couple games you started at midfielder. How was it to
find yourself in that role?
HG: “I think my versatility has helped me over the years. I sort of embrace it now. It used to be something where I would kind of resist but I kind of embrace it now. I see it as a way to keep growing as a professional and keep learning more. And, quite honestly, I think they’ve put me in these roles because they think I can be effective for the team. The main objective is for us to win. It’s for us to qualify. If they feel like I can be a benefit, whether it be up top, as a No. 9, or on the wing on the left or right, I’m going to do what I do and just go out and try to play my best and my hardest to help the team.”
Between World Cup Qualifying, CONCACAF Champions League and Liga MX, how do you manage to stay focused with so many tournaments and two different
HG: “This is what I want. For so long I’ve been saying that I want to be much more than a bench player, much more than a super sub and I’m finally getting the opportunity for both club and country to really solidify myself in the starting 11 and really make those positions my own. So I know that I have to stay at my highest level both mentally and physically to stay in those moments and keep being a contributor for both club and country. Like I said, this is what I want, so I have to just keep doing it. I’m enjoying myself. It’s such a great ride. I’m on an incredible run with playing with the two teams and whatnot in the last two months, but I’ve been having fun. I think it’s all about staying in the moment.”
Given where the team has put themselves after three games and an unusual circumstance of having three World Cup Qualifiers in a row in June, what is
going to be the important part of getting ready for those three games as a team? How do you approach a summer like this?
HG: “I think you have to go one game at a time. You can’t go in thinking, ‘Oh my god, there are three in a row and we have to make the most of it.’ You have to prepare for one game at a time. Take care of the first, then you worry about the second. I think it’s the only way to approach these games. You have to give the respect that’s due to each and every single team you face because they’re not easy teams. It’s not an easy region, so we can’t look past anybody.”
With the league ending in late May, essentially, you’ll be going straight from your season to that summer of games…
HG: “Yes. It’s been like that since last summer. I went straight from our championship run, we had our celebration, and then I met up with the team in Orlando and started physical testing and five games with the National Team and then literally had a 10-day break before preseason. It’s been non-stop. It will be the same thing if not worse as far as scheduling this year. But like I said, this is what I’ve always wanted. I always said I wanted to be a consistent player. When you find consistency, you’re going to find yourself with these types of problems, but they’re good problems to have.
“Not everybody gets to be in this privileged position that I’m in. Not everyone gets to say they’re doing league runs, and trying to make finals and win finals, same thing with CONCACAF Champions League and doing the same thing with World Cup qualifiers. These are the good problems to have. This is what I’ve always wanted. I’m doing it, I’m having a blast. My body has been great and mentally, I feel good. I just have to keep it going because I know not everybody gets to be that lucky and sooner rather than later, this is all going to be over.”