PUEBLA, Mexico – Herculez Gomez has been a consistent thorn in the side of MLS teams in the CONCACAF Champions League over the last two seasons, logging seven goals in six games against MLS opposition in that time.
And with the first leg of the quarterfinals at BBVA Compass Stadium coming up on Tuesday (8 pm ET, Fox Soccer), the bad news for Houston Dynamo fans is that Gomez and Santos Laguna’s appetite to succeed in the continental competition is not on the wane.
“We really want to be a team that competes with the best in the world and the only way of doing that is by winning this tournament,” Gomez told MLSsoccer.com by phone over the weekend. “The importance has been expressed, so we’re excited.”
Clashes against Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders last season pushed Santos Laguna into prominence in US soccer circles, but this time around the side plays a very different style than they had under former head coach Benjamín Galindo.
His replacement, Portugal native Pedro Caixinha, has come in and slowly started to change the way the team operates, focusing more on the defensive side of the ball. The team has leaked just six goals in nine games this Clausura season.
Gomez has operated mainly out wide this season but has started every game, scoring three times and providing two assists. He’s come around to appreciating what his versatility brings to both Santos and the US national team, and warmed up for Tuesday’s clash against Houston Dynamo by banging in a couple of goals last Friday in his team’s 3-1 victory over Jaguares.
“Obviously I just want to play,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter what position. I feel like I can be effective in multiple positions.”
The Las Vegas native has gone toe-to-toe with the Dynamo on many occasions when he plied his trade in MLS, and has a lot of respect for the franchise.
“I’ve had plenty of battles with them, with Dom Kinnear, with players on that team like Brad Davis, Brian Ching,” he said. “They’re a bunch of good players.
“For a long time, they were the standard in MLS of what an MLS team should be. An American built team that evenly distributes their money around. When it comes to foreigners, they are really the standard, so I know them very well.”
MLS Commissioner Don Garber’s comments last week about the necessity of an MLS team winning the CCL to gain international prestige were not lost on Gomez, and he says that in his three years playing in Mexico, the perception is that the northern league is getting stronger.
“The league is 18 years young, but what they’ve done in those 18 years speaks for itself,” he commented. “From an investment point of view, it’s sustainable and not many leagues in the world can say that.”
But while the US international clearly holds an affinity for MLS, don’t expect he or his Guerreros side to be rolling over for the Dynamo. Santos mean business on Tuesday.
“The CCL is important for us, it’s important for me," he said, "so I’m going to do everything I can, everything in my ability, in my power to hurt them."
Tom Marshall covers mericans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.