When Herculez Gomez trotted onto the FedEx Field pitch Wednesday night for his first U.S. national team start in nearly two years, the journeyman striker looked at the Brazilian who would be marking him and saw AC Milan’s Thiago Silva, one of the world’s finest center backs.
And then something odd happened: Gomez felt the pressure disappear.
“What do I got to lose?” he recalled thinking. “So I just went out and played.”
Although the Samba Boys’ attacking exploits grabbed the headlines after Brazil’s 4-1 friendly win, Gomez’s performance as the target forward between two wingers was a bright spot for the United States.
The 30-year-old pressured the back line, fought for loose balls, drew fouls and, in the 45th minute, scored his third international goal when he nodded home a Fabian Johnson cross at the near post.
“Herc’s easy to play with because he’s very predictable,” U.S. midfielder Landon Donovan said. “He’s active, he makes good runs, and when he’s in front of the goal he wants to score.”
Gomez certainly has taken the road less traveled to this U.S. squad. After bagging 11 goals for the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2005, he scored just 12 in four subsequent MLS seasons with Los Angeles, Colorado and Kansas City.
Running out of options stateside, Gomez in January 2010 signed with Mexican side Puebla and promptly went on a scoring tear, leading the league with 10 goals in 15 games before earning a spot on the U.S. World Cup team that summer. But he had been out of the international picture since — even updating his Twitter profile to call himself a “former” national team player — before an 11-goal surge in eight matches this spring with his new club in Mexico, Santos Laguna, earned him a recall.
With typical starter Jozy Altidore unavailable Wednesday after joining camp from the Netherlands just two days earlier, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann gave Gomez the nod against Brazil over 21-year-old Terrence Boyd, who started Saturday’s 5-1 win over Scotland in Jacksonville, Fla.
Despite injecting life into the U.S. team when his tally just before halftime made it a one-goal contest, Gomez still dwelled on the opportunities he didn’t bury. Such is the mindset of a prolific striker.
“The main difference was they were clinical in front of goal and we weren’t,” Gomez lamented. “I put some of those away, and it’s a different game.”
It’s unlikely Klinsmann will evaluate Gomez so harshly. On Sunday, the U.S. will wrap its friendly schedule in Toronto against Canada before opening 2014 World Cup qualifying with matches June 8 against Antigua & Barbuda in Tampa, Fla., and June 12 at Guatemala.
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