On the surface, Herculez Gomez's career trajectory appears to be that of a late bloomer.
After six up-and-down seasons in Major League Soccer, Gomez became a prolific goalscorer in Mexico's Primera Division, earned his way onto the USA's 2010 World Cup team, and helped club side Santos Laguna to a Mexican championship this season, scoring 11 goals in all competitions. His outstanding form earned him another call-up to the U.S. national team, where he received his first cap since August 2010 in Saturday's 5-1 win over Scotland.
So has the 30-year-old finally blossomed in the latter portion of his career? He doesn't think so.
The reality, as he'll tell you, is that his talent has always been there. His desire has always been there. His goalscoring ability has always been there.
He just hasn't always been somewhere people have noticed.
“I felt I got lost in the shuffle,” Gomez told Goal.com in an interview, referring to his time in MLS. “I'm not the only player in MLS that's happened to and hopefully it doesn't happen to many others, but I don't think I'll be the last.”
Gomez showed what he could do in 2005, when he scored 18 goals across all competitions with the LA Galaxy. The team won MLS Cup and Gomez was voted Galaxy MVP by the Los Angeles media.
The next season, Galaxy coach Steve Sampson moved Gomez around to a variety of positions, which had a negative effect on his performance. He was eventually traded to Colorado, where he experienced a brief run of success before tearing his ACL.
Once healthy, Gomez was traded to Kansas City, which was under the control of then-technical director and current head coach Peter Vermes.
“I was sat down by Peter Vermes and he told me that he saw me as a midfielder,” Gomez said. “And if I wanted to play forward, I'd be the fifth forward down the totem pole.”
Gomez struggled in Kansas City, scoring just one goal in two seasons. When his contract expired after the 2009 campaign, Gomez says Kansas City offered him half the amount they had promised at an earlier date. He rejected the offer.
“I got lost in the shuffle behind – and I'm not afraid to say this – some bad decisions. It happens to a lot of players in MLS - they get lost in the shuffle,” Gomez said.
Out of a contract and out of options, Gomez was tossed a life preserver by Mexican side Puebla.
“I went down to Mexico,” he says, “because it was pretty much my only choice.”
Follow SETH VERTELNEY on or shoot him an email.
In the Primera, everything changed for Gomez, as his dormant goalscoring touch exploded from beneath the surface. Although he frequently came off the bench, he scored 10 goals to tie for the league's scoring lead in his first season. He was rewarded with a call-up to the World Cup squad, and played in three of the USA's four games in South Africa.
Despite consistently finding the net in Mexico, Gomez's national team opportunities dried up, causing something of an outcry from many U.S. fans who thought he was being unfairly overlooked. Last Sunday, those fans – and Gomez – got their wish.
But that wasn't all.
Early in the day, Gomez was called into Jurgen Klinsmann's USA roster for the team's set of three friendlies and two World Cup qualifiers. Later that evening, his club team, Santos Laguna, clinched the Mexican Clausura title, defeating Monterrey in the final.
“I opened up my Twitter and I started seeing all these congratulations from fans, which is always great to see and very much appreciated,” Gomez said. “At that point I started thinking 'wow this is great,' but you kind of want to shut it out. I didn't respond to anything or really pay that much attention to it, even though it's virtually impossible, because I had a final to play.
“It was kind of a surreal day. We got to the game and we won the final. I experienced my first lifting of the trophy in Mexico, which was amazing.”
Back with the U.S. team, Gomez sees a contemporary in San Jose's Chris Wondolowski – another forward who got lost in the shuffle early in his MLS career, only to break out as one of the league's most prolific strikers in recent seasons.
“We both joked around that we're trying to make up for lost time, but it's the truth,” Gomez said of himself and Wondolowski. “I think the hunger and the will that we have, it's because we know, we're conscious that we still have a ways to go.”
Gomez may still have a ways to go, but he's still able to put where he's been in perspective.
“If you would have asked me two-and-a-half years ago if I would have seen myself winning a goalscoring title, going to a World Cup, going to a Club World Cup, playing in a CONCACAF final and lifting a first-division Mexican trophy, I probably would have told you that you were crazy.”
After leaping to Mexico three years ago, Gomez has accomplished more in a few years than many will in their entire careers. With that in mind, he hinted he could make another leap in the future.
“It happened because I took a chance, so who's to say in the next couple years I won't take another chance? My life's kind of been an adventure and the best part has been the journey.”
His ability has always been there. Gomez may not be a late bloomer, but his best days may still be ahead of him.