In just under six months, Herculez Gomez’s career has skyrocketed from one of soccer journeyman to a role on the biggest stage in sports.
The 2000 Las Vegas High School graduate was named on May 26 to one of the 23 spots on the U.S. World Cup team. Considering that Gomez’s career seemed to be stagnating just last year, realizing a lifelong dream is still a bit surreal for the 28-year-old striker.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling, a dream I’ve had since I first touched a soccer ball and since I first knew what the World Cup was,” Gomez says. “I can’t really put into words what these last six months have been for me, what I’ve gone through and what I’ve seen.”
Gomez’s run to the World Cup really picked up speed this January after he signed with Puebla of the Mexican league and scored 10 goals, tying for the league lead and becoming the first American to ever lead a foreign first-tier team in scoring.
That showing got him a spot on the 30-man U.S. preliminary roster on May 11, but he still was considered a long shot to make the final squad. Those odds turned even more in his favor when he scored on a header May 25 in the Americans’ 4-2 exhibition loss to the Czech Republic in East Hartford, Conn. It was that goal that convinced U.S. coach Bob Bradley to keep Gomez on the roster.
Gomez says he learned he made the World Cup team at a team meeting around 2 a.m. on the day the roster was announced.
“It’s like one of those Hollywood things,” Gomez says. “I know that I’m fortunate. I’ve had some great people along the way who’ve really helped me and guided me. And I know there are people who aren’t as lucky to have had the support system I’ve had around me.”
Along with Gomez’s family, which still lives in Las Vegas, one of his main supporters has been Frank Lemmon, who coached Gomez from the ages of 10 to 18 on the Neusport Football Club in Las Vegas.
Lemmon, now one of Gomez’s best friends, attended the U.S. team’s exhibition in Connecticut and will be making the trip to South Africa to watch his former player on the pitch.
“It seems like for him to get noticed, he’s had to achieve almost the unthinkable,” Lemmon says. “Whether he gets an opportunity or not [to play], we’ll see, but I know the type of kid he is. He’s not just content to wear the uniform and sit on the bench. He wants to be a contributor.”
Lemmon says since Gomez didn’t advance through the formal structure of the U.S. Soccer Federation, that makes his achievement all the more impressive.
“He was always the type of kid who, without question, had an incredible nose for the goal,” Lemmon says. “He probably developed a little bit later than some of the other kids in terms of his physicality, his speed and his size, and that’s probably one reason why he didn’t get heavily recruited coming out of youth soccer.”
After graduating from high school, Gomez played in Mexico’s lower leagues before catching on with the L.A. Galaxy of Major League Soccer in 2003. He was the Galaxy’s leading scorer with 18 goals in 2005, and helped the team win the MLS Cup. However, that didn’t parlay into good fortune for Gomez, who was traded to Colorado and suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2007. After being traded again in 2008, to Kansas City, and playing mostly out of position at midfielder, Gomez’s contract with MLS expired. It was then that his career rebirth began.
The son of Mexican immigrants, Gomez was born in Los Angeles and moved to Las Vegas at the age of 10. His father, a diehard soccer fan, has been living vicariously through his son since Gomez signed with Puebla.
“I don’t know who’s been more excited about these last six months, me or him,” Gomez says. “When I had the opportunity to play [in Mexico], he was ecstatic, and when I had some success down there, he was overwhelmed and overjoyed to see his son playing in that type of atmosphere.”
While Gomez’s role with the U.S. team hasn’t been established yet, he says he’s prepared to just work hard, do whatever it takes to help the team win and be ready when he’s called upon.
“I’m not your prototypical striker as far as American forwards go,” he says. “I’m not the little speedster, and I’m not that big hold-up guy. I guess I’m somewhere in between.”