Herculez Gomez figures he has about five months to prove he deserves a spot on the U.S. roster for next summer's soccer World Cup. And he's measuring that 90 minutes at a time, with each game he plays providing a chance to raise his stock or drop him further into oblivion.
"Nothing's guaranteed. I know that I've got to go out there and I've got to work for a spot," Gomez said. "I've got to kind of claw my way back on to the radar."
He certainly did that Saturday, threading a superb pass across the front of the goal to set up Juan Hernandez's tying goal, giving the Tijuana Xolos a 3-3 draw with Club America in a Mexican league preseason friendly in front of 25,000 at StubHub Center.
Raul Jimenez, who is working for a spot on the Mexican national team, improved his odds by scoring twice for America, which led, 3-0, after 52 minutes.
After Luis Rey headed in a one-bounce pass at the far post in the seventh minute to give America a 1-0 lead, Jimenez increased the lead 23 minutes later, capping a long run from just inside the midfield stripe with a right-footed strike. Jimenez then converted a penalty shot to make it 3-0 seven minutes into the second half.
Cristian Pellerano answered with a penalty-shot goal for Xolos six minutes later and scored off a rebound in the 62nd minute.
That's when Gomez replaced teenager Paul Arriola. And he needed less than 20 minutes to make his presence felt, taking a pass near the end line on the right wing that left him with a tough angle to shoot. So Gomez sent the ball to the far post for Hernandez, who had an easy tap-in to complete the Tijuana rally.
It was the kind of smart, unselfish play Gomez will need to continue making to stand out in a player pool loaded with talented strikers such as Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson. Especially after a right knee injury limited him to five appearances with the U.S. in 2013.
The 31-year-old from Oxnard faced a similar challenge four years ago. After going two years without playing for the U.S., he came out of nowhere to earn a place on the national team in South Africa, where he played in three of the team's four games.
"My stock wasn't too high. I was coming off an injury. I had to prove myself all over again," he said. "That's kind of where I'm at right now. I know that I have a big opportunity."
The same could be said of Joe Corona and Edgar Castillo, Gomez's Tijuana teammates who each played eight games with the U.S. this year. Like Gomez, both are longshots to be on the World Cup roster. But that hasn't stopped either from dreaming about Brazil.
"I think about the World Cup every day," said Corona, who played one half Saturday. "It's a huge goal for me."
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