Herculez Gomez has been looking to make his mark with Pachuca, among Mexico's finest clubs the past decade, after leading the Mexican Primera Division in scoring a year ago at Puebla.
It has not been easy. The Los Angeles-born, Las Vegas-raised forward, who emerged as team MVP when the Galaxy won the 2005 MLS Cup title, has struggled to make an impact off Pachuca's bench after scoring 10 goals, most of them as a substitute, in last year's Clausura, or spring, tournament.
Gomez, whose exploits at Puebla led to a roster spot for the U.S. at last year's World Cup, scored just once during the fall Apertura and had been held without a goal this Clausura as the Tuzos slumped near the bottom of the standings. Until last weekend.
The 29-year-old forward came off the bench, naturally, to score twice and set up a third goal as Pachuca (4-5-4) routed last-place Jaguares, 3-0, to vault from 16th to 12th overall and within three points of the playoff zone.
Gomez came on in the 63rd minute for Edgar Benitez, gave Pachuca a 70th-minute lead on a near-post header, then struck a sensational free kick for a 2-0 advantage in the 78th. A minute later, he assisted Franco Arizala.
“Thanks for never loosing [sic] faith,” Gomez tweeted after the game. “I know this is just the beginning for us. Feels great to score but it feels even better to win at home.”
This does seem familiar. Pachuca, which has won five Primera Division titles since 1999 and last year claimed its third CONCACAF Champions League titles in four years and fourth since 2002, won its final three regular-season games to get into the Apertura playoffs, exiting after holding to-be-champion Monterrey to two draws.
The schedule is pliable. The Tuzos, still last in Group 2, have a real test Wednesday night at Group 1 leader UANL Tigres, but their final three foes (Atlas, Gallos Blancos and Necaxa) are minnows in unremarkable form.
A FEW ANSWERS: Gomez celebrated his big day by holding a Q&A with fans on his Facebook page. A few highlights:
Q: Do you have a pregame pump-up song?
A: Journey, “Don't Stop Believin'.”
Q: Which comes first, the U.S. national team or your club team?
A: My club pays me, but my country made me.
Q: Who is you favorite soccer player right now? Which player inspired you as a kid?
A: As a kid, Maradona was awesome to watch, now Cristiano [Ronaldo].
Q: If you could pick any club in the world (outside of your current club), where would you like to play -- your dream destination?
A: Man U.
Q: Tu estadio favorito de Mexico? And in the world overall?
A: Mexico? Azteca. Mundo? Rose Bowl.
Q: What precautions do you take with all the reported violence going on?
A: I don't. I live life. Can't worry about what you can't control.
Q: If you had the chance, would you return to L.A. to play for the Galaxy?
A: Yes, but I doubt they would have room for me.
Q: Best advice for a young soccer player?
A: You get out what you put in.
Q: If you could have any super power, what would it be and why?
A: Mind control. ... Need I say more?
Q: Would you date Snookie?
A: No. … Why, has she said something?
CASTILIAN EFFORT?: Gomez wasn't the only American to come off the bench Sunday and find the net in the Primera Division. Edgar Castillo, from New Mexico, was brought on in the 86th minute and scored the equalizer in Puebla's 1-1 draw with Toluca in the 89th minute.
RISING CHIVAS: Guadalajara (5-2-6) made it three in a row with an impressive 3-0 decision over visiting America in Sunday's Super Clasico. Marco Fabian de la Mora scored twice in the final 20 minutes to secure the triumph, which sent the Goats to fourth overall.
America (6-7-1) dropped to eighth, the bottom of the playoff list, and has given up multiple goals in seven straight games, 18 in that span. And it's sitting out the midweek games in this week's “doble jornada” -- the Aguilas beat San Luis in Feburary -- giving its challengers a chance to pull even, pull tighter, go ahead or add a little distance.
BEST OF THE BUNCH: Top side Pumas UNAM (8-1-4) needed two late goals, from Israel Castro in the 89th and on a penalty kick by Juan Carlos Cacho four minutes into stoppage, to knock off UANL Tigres, 2-0, stopping the suburban Monterrey club's eight-game unbeaten streak and dropping it from second to third overall.
Morelia (8-3-3) went from third to second with a 3-2 win at Cruz Azul, with Elias Hernandez's goal in the 91st, his second of the game, making the difference. The Monarcas are just one point back after rallying to beat Jaguares, 3-2, Tuesday night on goals by Rafael Marquez Lugo in the 84th and Angel Sepulveda in the 87th.
COPA CALL: America and Jaguares made big moves to join the exodus from group play in Copa Libertadores, South America's club championship. The Aguilas (3-2-0) surged atop Group 3 as Matias Vuoso and Daniel Marquez scored late goals to beat Argentinos Juniors, 2-1. Jaguares (3-2-0) are second in Group 6 after Antonio Salazar's second-half goal stunned Brazil's Internacional, the defending champion.
One game remains in each of the three groups with Mexican clubs. America needs at least a tie next Wednesday at Uruguay's Nacional to be certain of advancing to the round of 16; a Fluminense win or tie vs. Argentinos Juniors also would send the Aguilas through. A victory next Tuesday at last-place Jorge Wilstermann of Bolivia will send Jaguares through in Group 6, although an Internacional win over Ecuador's Emelec also would be enough.
San Luis' situation in Group 1 is dicier. The Gladiadores (1-2-2) are third in Group 1 and must win next Tuesday at Paraguay's Libertad, which has already clinched the group title, to have a chance. Even that wouldn't be enough if Peru's Universidad San Martin beats Colombia's Once Caldas.
AMERICANS ABROAD: Los Alamitos' Jonathan Bornstein made his first appearance in seven games for Tigres, coming on in the 72nd minute of the loss to Pumas. … Pachuca's Jose Francisco Torres was the only Yank in a Primera Division starting XI. … Sacramento-born Miguel Angel Ponce took over when Jonny Magallon was hurt at the start of Guadalajara's victory. ... In the second-tier Liga de Ascenso, San Diego's Joe Corona was a Club Tijuana starter, and Marco Vidal featured for Leon.
ETC.: Necaxa, which managed a 0-0 draw at San Luis, must win at least three of its final four games to have any shot at avoiding relegation. The Rayos' remaining matches: Wednesday vs. Estudiantes Tecos, Saturday at Atlante, April 22 vs. Pumas, April 30 at Pachuca. … San Luis hasn't won in its past eight games, since Feb. 5. … Former Chivas USA forward Giancarlo Maldonado came on in the second half to score in Atlante's 3-1 win over Atlas, which sent the Potros atop Group 2. … Monterrey, which remained fifth overall with a 1-1 draw vs. Santos, has the toughest "doble jornada," facing Cruz Azul on Wednesday night and Morelia on Saturday.
LIGA DE ASCENSO: Leon and Club Tijuana failed to take advantage of first-place Irapuato's bye, both dropping 2-1 decisions on the road. Leon (8-2-4) remains two points back, but the Xolos (6-3-5) dropped behind Atlante Neza (7-3-5), which topped Leones Negros heading into its bye week.
Mauro Gerk gave Tijuana an end-of-first-half lead just moments after backline leader Javier Gandolfi was sent off, and La Piedad rallied through Marco Parra in the 60th minute and Octavio Valdez in the 78th. By game's end, the Reboceros were down to nine men. The loss was the Xolos' second in a row on the road.
La Piedad ended a six game winless streak. So did Albinegros de Orizaba, which topped Alacranes de Durango, 1-0, on Emmanuel Sanchez's stoppage-time strike. Last-place Lobos BUAP halted a nine-game winless skid with a 2-1 triumph over Merida. Juan Manuel Sara scored his 19th goal of the fall/spring.
Indios, who visit Estadio Caliente in Tijuana on Sunday, have posted two straight shutout wins, beating Veracruz, 1-0, on Edwin Hernandez's goal.
Former Chivas USA forward Roberto Nurse and, with his ninth Clausura goal, Jair Garcia scored to lead Cruz Azul Hidalgo past Leon.
Past week's results (home teams listed first)
Estudiantes Tecos 0, Gallos Blancos 0
Cruz Azul 2 (C. Gimenez 10, W. Ponce 63), Morelia 3 (Marquez Lugo 16, E. Hernandez 55, 91+)
Monterrey 1 (J. Arellano 23), Santos Laguna 1 (O. Peralta 9)
Pachuca 3 (H. Gomez 71, 78, Arizala 80), Jaguares 0
San Luis 0, Necaxa 0
Atlante 3 (F. Fonseca 10, og L. Ayala 53, G. Maldonado 75), Atlas 1 (Costly 89)
Puebla 1 (E. Castillo 90), Toluca 1 (E. Cerda 84)
Pumas UNAM 2 (I. Castro 89, Cacho pen. 94), UANL Tigres 0
Guadalajara 3 (E. Torres 28, de la Mora 72, 79)
Morelia 2 (R. Marquez Lugo 84, A. Sepulveda 87), Jaguares 1 (H. Sanchez Guerrero 66)
Group 1: UANL Tigres 23 points, Guadalajara 21, Monterrey 21, Estudiantes Tecos 15, Santos Laguna 14, Necaxa 12
Group 2: Atlante 19, America 19, Toluca 17, San Luis 17, Atlas 16, Pachuca 16
Group 3: Pumas UNAM 28, Morelia 27, Cruz Azul 21, Gallos Blancos de Queretaro 15, Puebla 14, Jaguares de Chiapas 11.
Overall (top 8): 1. Pumas UNAM 28 (+12 goal differential); 2. Morelia 27 (+9); 3. UANL Tigres 23 (+8); 4. Guadalajara 21 (+9); 5. Monterrey 21 (+5); 6. Cruz Azul 21 (+4); 7. Atlante 19 (+7); 8. America 19 (+2). Playoffs: If season ended now, top eight would qualify.
Relegation percentage: 1. Necaxa (30 games/28 points) 0.9333; 2. Gallos Blancos (64/73) 1.1406; 3. Jaguares (99/113) 1.1414; 4. Atlas (98/114) 1.1633; 5. Atlante (98/118) 1.2041
This week's games (all times Pacific)
Puebla at Santos Laguna, 5 p.m.
Guadalajara at Toluca, 5 p.m.
Estudiantes Tecos at Necaxa, 5 p.m.
Atlante at Gallos Blancos, 6 p.m.
Monterrey at Cruz Azul, 6:30 p.m.
Pachuca at UANL Tigres, 6:45 p.m.
Pumas UNAM at Atlas, 6:45 p.m.
UANL Tigres at Jaguares, 3 p.m.
Morelia at Monterrey, 5 p.m.
Santos Laguna at Guadalajara, 5 p.m.
Atlas at Pachuca, 5 p.m.
Cruz Azul at Puebla, 5 p.m.
Necaxa at Atlante, 5 p.m.
Toluca at San Luis, 6:45 p.m.
Gallos Blancos at Pumas UNAM, 10 a.m.
America at Estudiantes Tecos, 3 p.m.
Schedule subject to change
1. Angel Reyna (America) 9
2. Rafael Marquez Lugo (Morelia) 8
3. Wilmer Aguirre (San Luis) 7
Christian Bermudez (Atlante) 7
Emanuel Villa (Cruz Azul) 7
6. Carlos Bueno (Gallos Blancos) 6
Juan Carlos Cacho (Pumas UNAM) 6
Mauro Cejas (Estudiantes Tecos) 6
Hector Mancilla (UANL Tigres) 6
Erick Torres (Guadalajara) 6
1. Christian Benitez (Santos) 19
Humberto Suazo (Monterrey) 19
3. Matias Vuoso (America) 15
4. Mauro Cejas (Estudiantes Tecos) 13
5. Emanuel Villa (Cruz Azul) 12
6. Juan Carlos Cacho (Pumas UNAM) 11
Aldo de Nigris (Monterrey) 11
Christian Gimenez (Cruz Azul) 11
Hector Mancilla (Toluca/UANL Tigres) 11
Rafael Marquez Lugo (Morelia) 11
Miguel Sabah (Morelia) 11
CONCACAF Champions League
Semifinal, second leg: Cruz Azul 1 (Villaluz 23), Monterrey 1 (Suazo pen. 81)
Group 1: Libertad (Paraguay) 11 points, Universidad San Martin (Peru) 6, San Luis 5, Once Caldas (Colombia) 4
Group 3: America 9, Argentinos Juniors (Argentina) 7, Nacional 7, Fluminense (Brazil) 5
Group 6: Internacional (Brazil) 10, Jaguares 9, Emelec (Ecuador) 8, orge Wilstermann (Bolivia) 1
Group 3: America 2 (Vuoso 72, D. Marquez 82), Argentinos Juniors (Argentina) 1 (Niell 48)
Group 6: Jaguares 1 (A. Salazar 54), Internacional (Brazil) 0
LIGA DE ASCENSO
Past week's games (home teams listed first)
Correcaminos 1 (I. Valadez 3), Dorados de Sinaloa 1 (A. Mercado 9)
Lobos BUAP 2 (D. Jimenez 62, J. Sara 74), Merida 1 (L. Echeverria 90)
Pumas Morelos 1 (D. Garay 76), Altamira 2 (Zatarain 49, Colazo 62)
Albinegros de Orizaba 1 (E. Sanchez 93+), Alacranes de Durango 0
Indios de Ciudad Juarez 1 (E. Hernandez 77), Veracruz 0
Atlante Neza (Cariño 40, Atilano 79), Leones Negros 1 (A. Estrada 57)
Cruz Azul Hidalgo 2 (R. Nurse 6, J. Garcia 76), Leon 1 (H. Gimenez 81)
La Piedad 2 (M. Parra 60, O. Valdez 78), Club Tijuana 1 (Gerk 44)
1. Irapuato 30 points; 2. Leon 28; 3. Atlante Neza 26; 4. Club Tijuana 23; 5. Veracruz 22; 6. UAT Correcaminos 21; 7. Cruz Azul Hidalgo 21; 8. Dorados de Sinaloa 21; 9. Pumas Morelos 19; 10. Altamira 18; 11. Albinegros de Orizaba 17; 12. Indios de Ciudad Juarez 17; 13. La Piedad 14; 14. Merida 13; 15. U de G Leones Negros 13; 16. Alacranes de Durango 12; 17. Lobos BUAP 9
This week's games (all times Pacific)
Irapuato at Altamira, 5 p.m.
Veracruz at Albinegros de Orizaba, 4 p.m.
Lobos BUAP at Alacranes de Durango, 5 p.m.
Correcaminos at Merida, 5:05 p.m.
Cruz Azul Hidalgo at Dorados de Sinaloa, 6 p.m.
Pumas Morelos at Leon, 6 p.m.
La Piedad at Leones Negros, 6 p.m.
Indios de Ciudad Juarez at Club Tijuana, 1 p.m.
Idle: Atlante Neza
Schedule subject to change
1. Ariel Gonzalez (Irapuato) 12
Blas Perez (Leon) 12
3. Jair Garcia (Cruz Azul Hidalgo) 9
Roberto Saucedo (Correcaminos) 9
5. Juan Manuel Sara (Lobos BUAP) 8
6. Mauricio Romero (Veracruz) 7
7. Raul Enriquez (Club Tijuana) 6
8. Edwin Borboa (Indios de Ciudad Juarez) 5
Miler Castillo (Lobos BUAP) 5
Eder Pacheco (Veracruz) 5
Rodrigo Prieto (Dorados de Sinaloa) 5
Pablo Torres (Merida) 5
1. Eder Pacheco (Alacranes/Veracruz) 21
2. Juan Manuel Sara (Lobos BUAP) 19
3. Ariel Gonzalez (Irapuato) 18
4. Blas Perez (Leon) 17
5. Mauricio Romero (Veracruz) 14
6. Raul Enrique (Club Tijuana) 13
Roberto Nurse (Cruz Azul Hidalgo) 13
8. Miguel Zepeda (Leones Negros) 12
9. Jair Garcia (Cruz Azul Hidalgo) 11
10. Juan Manuel Cavallo (Albinegros) 10
Roberto Saucedo (Correcaminos) 10