Gomez back in Colorado with USMNT and feather in his cap
U.S. Men's National Team forward Herculez Gomez has been a professional for the better part of 10 years.
He's played numerous games for his country - including in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
He's won an MLS Cup and a U.S. Open Cup trophy, scoring the winning goal in the final for LA in 2005.
He's lead the top League in Mexico in goals, and had been transferred three times - each team seeking his scoring ability.
But among his career highlights, there's one play that holds a special place in the heart of the now Santos Laguna striker.
On April 7, 2007, Gomez scored his first goal as a member of the Colorado Rapids. It was also the first goal ever scored at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, site of Friday's World Cup Qualifying match between the USMNT and Costa Rica (8 p.m. MT, ESPN and UniMas).
Gomez scores first goal at Dick's Sporting Goods Park
"It was the day after my birthday, and it was very cold," Gomez recalled to ColoradoRapids.com on Monday following his first session with the U.S. team in Denver. "I think we set the record for coldest day in MLS history. We had a great team and a great crowd that day. It just happened that I was fortunate enough to score that goal. It's kind of a feather in the cap for me."
Gomez was acquired by the Rapids five months earlier along with Ugo Ihemelu from the LA Galaxy in exchange for goalkeeper Joe Cannon. Only 19 minutes into his debut, he headed in a corner kick from Terry Cooke to give the Rapids the 1-0 lead over D.C. United in what turned out to be a 2-1 victory for Colorado.
"I have some awesome memories from here in Colorado," he said. "I made great friends, and I have lasting memories that will forever be with me."
He scored again in the next game - a fantastic strike against Chicago - which would later be nominated as one of the Top Ten MLS goals of the year.
But after scoring four goals, he suffered a torn ACL and lateral meniscus in his right knee in September and missed the rest of the season. He was traded the next year to Kansas City, but the injury proved too much to overcome. He failed to score in 26 matches in 2009 and was released.
Ever since then, Gomez has been on a climb that seems to have no end.
In January 2010 he signed with Puebla in Mexico's top division and promptly scored 10 goals, tying for the most in the Mexican league - becoming the first American to lead a foreign league in goals. He made the 2010 World Cup team and has continued scoring both in Mexico and with the U.S. team ever since.
"Going abroad I think it just opened my eyes," he said of his rise since leaving MLS. "It made me realize how much more there is out there, how much more I needed, and how much more I had to work on. When I started doing that, started applying it and really taking it to heart - and kind of being on one end of the spectrum without a job to the other end where you feel like you're on top - it's made me work that much harder."
Gomez has scored more than 40 goals in Mexico over the past four years, including 13 this season with Santos. He also scored the lone goal for the U.S. in September's 1-0 World Cup Qualifying win over Jamaica which gave the team room to breathe before advancing to the final stage of qualifying.
"It's something I pride myself on, consistency," he said of his form. "I think it was something that I had trouble with when I was in MLS. I didn't play a lot, sometimes I would play different positions. I just couldn't find that consistent form to solidify something here in the States."
Gomez doesn't take anything for granted. He credits his hard work for where he is, and his teammates on the national team for trusting and believing in him, in turn giving him the confidence to continue doing what he does - score goals.
He's part of the 24-man USMNT roster called in for these two crucial World Cup Qualifying matches - against Costa Rica and against Mexico at Estadio Azteca next Tuesday.
"I came here to help this team," he says of his role with the USMNT this week. "I'd love nothing more than to go 180 in both games and to have six points in our pockets."
The first three points are at stake in Commerce City. U.S. fans are hoping Gomez can leave Colorado with another feather in his cap on Friday.