A USA international scored yesterday in Mexico's Primera Division - but this one is a product of Major League Soccer.As the 2009 season wound down, there were whispers and rumblings that a Los Angeles Galaxy star would find his way down south to play in the Mexican league. However, it turned out that the closest Landon Donovan would get to crossing the border was in a cheeky commercial appearance for a Mexican lottery product.
Yet in the same offseason, a player who lined up next to Donovan and was a crucial element of the Galaxy's 2005 championship run did break into Mexico's league.
Herculez Gomez joined Puebla, signed not on a loan, but as part of the club's bid to remain in the Primera Division, the Mexican top flight.
Trading or sharing time up top with another ex-Galaxy player, Carlos Ruiz, Gomez has gradually had a greater impact for the club in recent matches. He scored his second goal of the season on Wednesday, the 17th, a late strike that captured the win for Puebla.
Gomez responded by email to Goal.com's questions about his experiences in Mexico.
"I feel great. I couldn't have imagined things would have gone this well so early. It's been such an amazing experience and I hope to build on this and grow as a player."
The forward's career started in Mexico, when he played for lower division teams after finishing high school in the U.S. Though he didn't follow the standard college path of many American soccer players, it was actually the U.S. game that would help Gomez break out at the next level. Frustrated with his opportunities in Mexico, Gomez returned to the United States, and eventually landed a development contract with the Galaxy in 2003. It was 2005 when he went on a scoring tear for the Galaxy, helping them win the double championship of MLS Cup and the US Open Cup.
Stints with the Colorado Rapids and the Kansas City Wizards followed, before this latest adventure with Puebla began.
There's a legendary rivalry between Mexico and the USA, but those elements have combined harmoniously in the career of Gomez. He has been capped twice for the United States, but his Mexican citizenship also made the transition to club soccer there much easier. Gomez has always given credit to both countries in developing his game, saying he has taken important element from both styles. This adaptability has helped him, but so have his Puebla teammates.
"Since day one they have been nothing but supportive and accepting," Gomez. "I can't even think of how things would be if otherwise. I'm thankful I have found such a great group."
Gomez' most recent goal would look familiar to many Galaxy fans - a hard, low shot that Gomez scrapped to get to just ahead of a defender. Once there, he tucked it just inside the far post.
Yet his debut goal for Puebla was more of a statement that Gomez can make an impact in Mexico. He fired in a sharp header versus Atlante, showing his versatility.
"It all happened so fast," recalled Gomez. "It's a crazy feeling that is hard to describe. I just remember thinking of my family and hoping that they were watching. As far as where it ranks? It's definitely special. . . they say you never forget your first."
Despite his early start in Mexico's leagues, there's no doubt that Gomez, having spent seven years in the league, is an MLS-developed player. While Donovan may be turning heads in Europe for his play, Gomez is proving that the MLS influence can have success in other countries as well.
There are still stark differences in the soccer experience between the neighboring countries, however, and for Gomez, playing in Mexico has given him the opportunity to bask in the adulation that comes with performing for a club in a nation that is wild about the sport.
"The people here are extremely passionate; everyone here lives and dies for Puebla FC," Gomez revealed. "It's pretty cool."
Having paid his dues in the league that is less than two decades old, Gomez is enjoying his time in the Primera Division, which was founded over 50 years ago. Scoring more goals will only make the experience sweeter.
"I have lived in the US my whole life; it's nice to experience different cultures and surroundings," Gomez explained. "Thus far, I am having a great time."
Andrea Canales is Chief Editor of Goal.com North America
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