I had the hardest time coming up with angle for our in-depth conversation with Herculez Gomez below and then I chuckled. In the interview, Herculez and I “debate” what player his game is most like. I suggesting Salomon Kalou–and that’s not really a great one. He suggesting….that he really can’t come up with a comparison.
But as much as Herculez Gomez is perhaps unorthodox in how he’s risen in his career–to striker at one of the top teams in the Mexican Primera–and how he arose to consideration for World Cup 2010 (and eventually to a starting spot in the most critical group game for the States)…..
And as much as you can’t define his game or perhaps how, or why, he’s had success……
There’s a single theme that I found resonating, strongly and supremely, through Herculez Gomez’s answers.
He’s an All-American….brimming with the American can-do spirit.
And then that analogy of unorthodoxy works all the better considering Herculez Gomez is a Mexican-American, who grew up a fan of MLS–considering Cobi Jones one of his favorites nonetheless–and has reached the pinnacle of American soccer…without ever, in his words, being the best on his club team.
Ladies and gentlemen, the All-American:
TSG: So first question I’ve wanted to ask you for a while and I apologize, but it’s a World Cup question.
What was that moment like when Bob Bradley called you to the touchline in the England game. You hadn’t played much for the US until then and here you are. There are only a few moments left and Bob Bradley calls you to the touchline. While it was wasting time, we also commented at the time that it was a bold move by Bob Bradley to make sure you were ready when called on, whether for this game or next.
Take us through that moment.
Herc: I think Bob was just trying to waste time. But in my head, I’m thinking, if I can get on the field last minute, maybe there’s a chance.
Maybe, who knows what happens. I think it was Bob trying to kill some time. Throw in a sub.
I was still eager to get on the field, but it was bittersweet. It was awesome that we got a great result against England.
I definitely would’ve loved to touch the pitch though. It was one of those “Oh, jeez, almost” moments.
TSG: Do you think he was getting you ready for the next game where you came in earlier in the 2nd half against Slovenia? A sort of “Be ready when I call you” thing?
Herc: It definitely showed me that Bob had faith in me and that he was willing to throw me in. He could’ve chosen anybody, but he gave me the opportunity.
Bob throughout the tournament gave me the confidence and that is something every player needs–a coach’s confidence.
I remember then when I came in against Slovenia, I was buzzing. I was lively. I made a run.
I cleared some space for Michael and for Jozy and he nodded the ball down to Michael. And Michael had a great finish.
That was a ridiculous game to be part of. The way we came back and battled and how much character our team showed.
It’s good to feel that in the those moments your coach has faith in you.
TSG: One of the things that the fan in me loved about that moment….I loved that Michael Bradley when he went to celebrate was yelling at and beckoning for the whole bench to come join him at the corner flag.
So many times you see goal scorers celebrate themselves, but for US fans I think that was just a great moment after the goal to see the team celebrate.
Herc: You know, we’re a different team than most. We’re a very hard-working team.
People here in Mexico ask me what it’s like [to be part of the USMNT].
We were a machine. There’s no one bigger than the team. Everybody does their part. Everybody pulls for another.
You know, we were down there [in South Africa] for a month and when you’re seeing each other everyday, getting to know each other, it builds a bond.
And now you’re fighting for your country at the biggest sporting event in the world….it’s not just one person scoring a goal, it’s the whole team gaining something.
That’s the way we saw it.
TSG: Has that experience changed your perspective at all on soccer? Changed your preparation or anything else?
Herc: Absolutely. I think it’s the greatest thing about playing soccer, playing on a national team.
You get to learn something new. Everything’s so intense at the international level. You learn what it takes to play at that level. The dedication. The work. Everything you have to put in. The sacrifice.
Spending that time going to the World Cup, seeing how certain players prepare themselves. Seeing how the competition reacts to certain things, how they lift themselves up.
Seeing how your teammates do that for you.
Those things go a long way and you don’t necessarily see them at the club level.
TSG: Is it indicative of Bob Bradley, that is, the US’s team profile, if you will, or is it just the American ethos? I would say it’s a little bit of both, but you tell me.
Herc: I do think it’s a little bit of both. I think you see Bob’s personality in our team. We pick and choose our moments.
We’re an all or nothing team. We definitely leave it on the field….and that’s Bob in a nutshell.
Bob’s an intense guy. If you ever meet Bob, your first impression of him is that he’s a very intimidating.
He may not want to come across that way. But that’s just Bob. That’s the way he is and that’s why we love him.
He’s our manager and he’s a no bullshit type of guy.
TSG: Let me follow-up on that intensity theme. I didn’t watch much of your play until May of 2010 and I might have had my doubts….[pause]
But one thing that impressed me the most about your game is your hustle on the field is just amazing. It’s not like you’re just burning energy on the field to burn energy. You still have economy of motion, but you’re constantly in motion.
I watched you in that Czech game specifically and you were always looking for a spot to be open or making a move to open up someone else.
How did you develop that ability and mentality?
Herc: I think it’s adaptation really. And this is being very sincere here.
I was never an ODP [Olympic Development Program] player. I was never best in state.
I was never best player on my club team so I had to do other things to get by.
It’s kind of funny, but I was that player who wasn’t supposed to make it this far.
You have to do those things. You have to be that type of player if you want to succeed; at least that’s what I have to do.
If I make certain movements and I free up other players on my team and then I make another movement and now I’m free, then chances are I’m going to get the ball.
And you know what, I’ve always had a nose for goal.
There’s something to be said about working for your teammates, working for each other.
I had a club coach in high school who always told me, “Always be mobile. Keep moving.”
That’s one thing I’ve always had is mobility.
TSG: It’s evident. Now, moving down to your club situation. I believe I’ve read that you said the Mexican League is a highly technical league, have you had to improve any of your skillset moving down there?
Herc: Absolutely. These players have far superior skill-wise and technique-wise in certain aspects than I am.
They’ve grown up doing things a certain way. I come in and I’m very different type of player down here.
People ask me to describe my position. What type of forward I am in.
In MLS, you’re either a post-up guy or a speedy guy. And I’m kind of neither, you know.
And it kind of goes the same way down here. I’m not really a prototypical player down here and sometimes it’s an advantage and sometimes it’s a disadvantage.
It’s one of those things where I need to improve on, not necessarily my technique, but their technique and what they’re trying to do and where they expect me to be tactics-wise.
TSG: Having a watched a little bit of your games last year, but all of your highlights, your positioning is sublime. I would auger that most of your goals–80% of them maybe–came from just perfect positioning.
Do you think the positioning is that important or am I missing a certain part of your skill set?
Herc: I think every year I’ve grown as a player and added something.
My first year with the Galaxy, Open Cup and league I scored 18 goals and I kid you not, 90% of those goals were long-distance shots outside the 18′; just rocking them in.
And pretty soon you realize that players are going to realize that that’s your game and as a player, you have to change it up and do different things.
Lately my goals have been by tactical awareness. Really I’m a forward, but I take a lot of pride in my defensive work. I run players down on defense, I love to do it.
Sometimes others player won’t know how to react, they cough it up, next thing you know I’m getting the ball back and I’m one-vs-one with the centerback.
It’s not really being at the right place at the right time. It’s just causing some chaos on the defensive end and them coughing the ball up and getting a second chance as soon as you get it back.
TSG: It’s funny you mention that because that’s a very Bob Bradley’esque mentality. He’s fond of saying he watches how a player reacts on the defensive side of the ball, especially when they lose the ball, is something he specifically looks for.
Herc: Bob definitely has that mentality. I use the term machine a lot, because I think that’s what we are. We are a very well-tuned machine. It’s not a great machine, but it’s just a machine that works.
There’s nothing too flashy about it–it’s just everyone doing their part. If everyone does their part, then we’re going to be successful.
TSG: Let’s stay yourself with your undefined position for a second. Is there a player you emulated growing up? Who would you compare yourself to? The closest I can kind of come up with is Salomon Kalou at Chelsea…but that’s not really spot on.
Herc: Man, this is my problem. I’ve always looked up to great players and feel like I’m one of them! [laughing]
The Maradona(s), Cristiano Ronaldo…when I was a kid, my favorite team growing up was the LA Galaxy and my favorite player growing up was Cobi.
I used to love Cobi. But I never had Cobi’s pace! I used to love how he flew down the wings.
I always looked up to those types of players. I don’t know who I can compare myself to.
I feel I know my limitations, but I also feel like…the feeling that I have a higher ceiling than most people give credit for.
I’ve had to prove myself over and over again. There are still people who doubt where I am.
It’s one of those things…it’s a fire that keeps me going.
TSG: So quick humor break here or maybe not: When Javier Hernandez signed with Manchester United, do you feel you should have been invited in by Arsenal or Chelsea?
[Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez was the co-winner of the goal title in the Primera last year with Herc.]
Herc: Absolutely not. [laughing]
I’m a realistic guy. I’m 28-years-old. He’s got certain attributes that many players don’t have.
The kid’s got pace. He’s got great aerial ability. He can hit the ball. He’s very lively. He’s very smart for his age. And he’s got a good head on his shoulders.
That’s the one thing I admire about him most. You don’t see that type of composure on and off the field when you get that attention at that age.
TSG: Would you say he was the most talented striker in the league along with yourself last year?
Herc: I’ll put it to you this way.
I won the goal scoring title with him and I wasn’t even up for one of the best three forwards in the league.
TSG: But you knew I was going to ask the question that way. That’s the way I’m supposed to ask it.
Herc: [laughing] Definitely, definitely for my money he was the most talented striker in the league.
TSG: Let me change gears a little. Apologies, I haven’t interviewed a lot of dual nationality-qualifying players so I’m going to ask you some questions along those lines.
You know Miguel Ponce at Chivas de Guadalajara?
Herc: Oh yeah, Ponce, the leftback.
TSG: So he can play for either the US and Mexican team and he’s at Chivas which has a mandate, as I understand, of only letting Mexican nationals play. What goes through a player like that’s mind when they’re choosing an affiliation? What advice would you give him?
Herc: You know I can only imagine what’s in his head right now. I’m sure it’s difficult.
I’m sure deep down he knows where he wants to be.
If I’m him, I’m thinking, “What type of player am I. What type of person am I.” And, most importantly, “Where do I want to end up in my career?”
If he thinks he’s a Mexican international then he needs to make that decision. But if he doesn’t then he needs to make a choice like that kid Omar Salgado did.
I think he made a wise choice. He’s 17 and he’s playing a for third or fourth division mexico and it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle…or he can go to an MLS team that’s going to invest in his future.
That’s a pretty easy choice to make for me.
TSG: That’s very insightful. More towards the national team now maybe, how are you looked at being a US national playing in Mexico?
Herc: I’ve been treated well down there. Once you get to know the guys, they become your friends. But at first you do feel like a foreigner. I definitely feel like I’m a foreigner sometimes.
It’s just the way it is.
People down here they criticize their national team when they play naturalized citizens.
The Argentines, the Uruguayans….when they become citizens and go to play for the team, the fans criticize them, the press criticizes them.
It’s not always an easy place to play soccer. You’re always in the spotlight.
For Ponce, I can’t really say whether they’d be accepting of him or not.
Being with Chivas and playing in Guadalajara, one of Mexico’s biggest cities, there’s even more scrutiny.
Chivas and Pachuca are kind of defined as being “Mexico’s teams.” They’re a little harder on their players, definitely now a days.
TSG: Being as young as he is to–he’s 21–that’s a pretty big weight of a career decision hanging on him real early. Must be a tough predicament.
Herc: Trust me. If he’s lived in Guadalajara for a while and he’s been with them a few years, then he’s already feeling it.
There are a heavily scrutinized team. There players are always criticized by the press.
Just seeing that, I’m sure it adds a little more pressure on him.
TSG: Interesting to see his choice. So you had stellar beginning to 2010. Moving to Pachuca, what were and what are some of the challenges you face? What are your goals for this year?
Herc: I’m just hoping to get on the pitch, man.
I’ve never played this little since I started playing with the Galaxy. It’s one of those things where there’s been a coaching change and he’s got ideas on how to play.
I hope I fit into those plans. Everyday I work hard just to prove myself and try to earn an opportunity.
And I’m still waiting for the opportunity here in Pachuca…not too say it won’t come.
We’re in preseason now and we’re all trying to show the coach that we’re able to play and should be on the pitch.
TSG: Let me follow-up on that….it sounds like you’re a little resigned to being in a more difficult situation than when you signed on there.
Would that be a fair assessment?
Herc: Yeah, I think so.
I thought when I signed, “What would be best my future?”
I’ve already won a championship in MLS and if I win one in Mexico it would really be extraordinary…and what club would give me the best chance to do it.
And I went with that assessment over financial terms. And…I followed my heart. I kind of expected more.
You just have to roll with the punches. You’re not guaranteed anything in life and certainly not in soccer.
Trust me, if given the opportunity, I hoping to do better than what I did my first season.
TSG: So where do you see yourself four years from now?
Herc: I’m 32….and probably want to be closer to home.
TSG: Preference to come back to the team that you rooted for as a kid?
Herc: It would be nice. But I would be just as excited to be back in the States playing for the league I watched growing up and feel proud of building.
TSG: It’s great talking to a player that has that connection and passion to MLS.
Herc: I definitely do. I’ve said it many times. MLS made me the player, the person, I am today.
It’s the truth, I enjoyed my time there. I had some great times and some not-so-great times.
But all of it molded me into the person I am today.
TSG: Now you’re not the first person in your family to represent the US. Your brother…
Herc: Oh, ha. My brother represented the US in a jujitsu tournament in Turkey.
[Herculez brother, Ulysses “Useless” Gomez has been a professional MMA fighter since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter here.]
TSG: He also had a hysterical comment that I’m going to read to you and get your reaction. Do you know the one I’m referring to?
Herc: No, no I don’t [laughing, hesitatingly]
TSG: Here’s his comment, you react: “Being Hispanic, there are three things people do….
Herc: Oh god.
TSG: “… fighting, soccer and construction. I don’t like soccer and I don’t like yard work…so that left fighting.”
Herc: What can I say, the kid gets punched in the head for a living.
TSG: But he also wears your current teams jersey in before every fight so that kind of offsets it.
Herc: I love my brother to death. We’re 13 months apart; I’m older.
And growing up, we had battles. If my parents bought him something they bought me something. If they bought me something, they bought him something.
He split a room as well and it was a little overbearing. We got into our teens and both mellowed out.
I support him in his career; he supports me in mine. It’s kind of nice to see how much we’ve both grown.
It’s always nice to come home and see him…[laughing] he fluctuates his weight so much all the time. He always looks different.
TSG: How’s his career going?
Herc: It’s going well. He’s a bantamweight champion. He’s 8-1. He’s got an unbelievable ground game. He’s got great striking ability. Trains with championship fighters, prize fighters.
He’s got a good head on his shoulders. He’s a lot smarter than I am.
TSG: Come on now. A few final questions.
Do you prefer to go by Herculez or Herc?
Herc: Herc. Herc. When anyone says Herculez I feel like I’m in trouble.
TSG: Do you get that whole Nutty Professor Eddie Murphy scene over and over, right?
Herc: I’ve never heard it.
TSG: You’re kidding.
Herc: Never heard it. How’s it go?
TSG: You never heard it. The little fat kid, farting at the dinner table.
Herc: …of course I heard it.
TSG: Alright you got me, but I still know you’re not going to MLS. I was like you have to be kidding me, I watched you spout off movie lines with Jay Demerit on Twitter. Which by the way, Jay DeMerit on Twitter is ridiculous. I want to get him to write for us every week!
Herc: Jay DeMerit in person is ridiculous. And he’s a great guy. If you guys want to know who cut my hair for the World Cup, that was “Cuts By Jay.”
TSG: Sounds like a second career for him.
Herc: He’s got multiple career paths he can go into. He’s a smart guy though. Don’t underestimate him.
TSG: Let me ask this Jozy question. Jozy Altidore gets a lot criticism because he hasn’t necessarily produced a ton yet. Let me get your commentary on that being a striker in the US pool and the only American to win a goal title outside the US.
What’s your perspective on Jozy?
Herc: Jozy’s a beast. Jozy is one of those guys when he figures out how good he is, he’s going to explode. The sky’s the limit.
But it’s just one of those things, that you’re going to have to give him time. It’s just like a lot of players. He’s 20-..21-years-old…with time he’s going to learn, he’s going to gain confidence.
He’s going to realize it doesn’t matter what people say; it doesn’t matter what the press says.
“They don’t live your life. They don’t walk in your shoes.”
And once he learns that, watch out, because he’s going to be a dangerous player.
TSG: You going to be playing in World Cup 2014?
Herc: I’m going to do my best to be ready if I’m called on any year. This year, next year 2013, 2014.
But I’ll be 32-years-old around that time and I know there are going to be bigger and better players coming up.
So I’m very realistic about things, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to stop me from trying to still get there or just helping the US get there.
You know. If I get there, awesome, but I know how it goes.
TSG: This is one of the best player conversations, Herc. It’s always great to just roll with a conversation where a player is honest and says what’s on their mind. And I really appreciate that.
You always have a forum anytime that you want on TSG. Thank you.
Anything we missed?
Herc: I did want to add one thing. Tomorrow I’m going to take a flight to LA with my girlfriend to spend New Year’s with some friends from the Galaxy, some friends I spend New Year’s with every year.
Last year, New Year’s, I took a flight from Las Vegas to San Francisco to spend New Year’s with my girlfriend and a friend and before my flight I didn’t have a job and I didn’t know what was going to happen with my career.
And I landed in San Francisco and I started receiving voicemails from people in Mexico, from my agent Richard Motzkin and all of sudden this club opportunity came bout.
So you never know where life’s going to take you, so, if you get the opportunity, make the most of it.