Seattle fans have mostly known Hérculez Gomez as the guy who played briefly for the A-League Sounders and went on to bigger and better things, including a role on the US National Team and scoring the lone goal in the Seattle leg of Santos Laguna's victory over the Sounders in the 2013 CCL semifinal.
Even coming into town as the enemy, Herc engaged in playful banter with Sounderdom on social media, aware of his history with the team and not afraid to talk a little smack. Beyond the jokes, though, Gomez has always had respect for the Sounders organization and fan base, and even hinted once or twice that he'd be open to a Sounders comeback.
Well, here he is. Now 33 and coming off of a lackluster season with Toronto FC, Gomez today had his first official practice as a member of Seattle Sounders FC, and afterwards he minced no words about his appreciation of the opportunity from Seattle, his personal story, watching the growth of the Sounders, and his love for social media.
Gomez didn't exactly crank out the goals with Toronto FC last year. In fact it was a disappointing enough half season (just 241 minutes on the field) that TFC waived him at the beginning of March, leaving him without a club with just days before MLS kicked off. While that unimpressive showing might be a concern for Sounders fans, it sounds like there was more to the story:
"If I'm being quite honest, the situation with Toronto was difficult. I think it was poorly managed. They put me in a situation that was unfair. I think they're great people, but the poor mismanagement in the front office put me in a very hard spot. When I spoke to my agent he asked me where I'd potentially want to go. I knew I wanted to be on the West Coast. Initially I said Seattle just because I kind of felt it would be a great place to come back to play, hopefully be able to do something -- but not knowing if there would be any interest, really. Seattle actually reached out. I don't want to give too much away, but there was some interest and really not a whole lot of interest elsewhere. So it happened to be just a perfect fit."
If he has been lighthearted when talking (tweeting) about the Sounders before, Herc is all business now, and he's clearly happy with the opportunity to play for a team that wants him:
"Sigi has been very honest with me, and that's all any player can ask for with coaching and management, is just honesty. He said come in and work hard, if there are opportunities to bring you on -- because he knows I can be dangerous in front of goal -- if there are opportunities I'll be there and if I can work hard and show that there's a place for me then I'll get an opportunity and from there it's up to me."
Gomez sees himself as a player who relied on hard work and a healthy competitive streak to get him where he is today, and he feels like he still has something to prove in MLS:
"They've just handed me a lifeline. It's an opportunity for me. I do best when I have a chip on my shoulder. That's how I've done best throughout my career. I've got a pretty big chip on my shoulder with how things ended in Toronto. It's not sour grapes, but there's just a way of going about things, and a way of treating people. It wasn't one of the ways I would have done things. So I'm eager to get to work. I have to prove a lot of people wrong, I have to prove that I belong. I'm excited to do that."
If one thing is clear from listening to Gomez, it's that he's happy to be here. Not because of the paycheck, but because of the people around him, and that's good news for a locker room that seems to be getting on well right now, but is facing pressure to get results:
"It's easy to fit in here. They're good soccer players, they're good guys. They've been around, it's a very experienced group. More than anything they seem like really good people and I think that's important. That's what I've noticed now being in two MLS locker rooms -- back after a long leave -- is the locker rooms are good. There's a sense of just good human beings, and that's always good. It's always good to be around people like that."
He talks about a "special kind of relationship" between himself and the team over the last few years that makes it "feel right" for him to come back. He reminisces about his time as a young man with the A League Sounders, and how far the club and fanbase have come since then. He even sees a parallel to his own life story: humble beginnings, lots of success, but still more potential to come:
"I didn't grow up with much. Opportunities were scarce where I came from. So if you would have told me back then that my career would have played out like this, I probably would have laughed at you. I think it's good to see how we've both grown and what we've been able to achieve. I still feel we could achieve a lot more -- the team could achieve a lot more, I could achieve a lot more. I think that's where we have something in common, is that hunger. So I'm excited to be here. I want to help out in any way I can.
He might be coming up on 34, but Hérculez Gomez would like you to know he has no plans for retirement. In fact, it sounds like if the Sounders locker room and practice pitch continue to bring him joy, he might be here as long as his legs hold out:
I'm going on 16 years where this has been a job for me. I'm thinking about how much longer to keep doing it, and it's not even about the money anymore, because quite honestly I could be anywhere else and probably it would be a better situation financially. But it's about wanting to be a part of something, wanting to be somewhere that you're comfortable and happy. And I still enjoy coming out and playing, I feel like a little kid right now. I was just telling these guys, I feel like when I was 20 years old and I've got to prove somebody wrong and I'm hungry for an opportunity. As long as I feel that way, and as long as i feel like I can come out and step on the pitch and it's still fun and I still want to banter with the boys, then I'll keep doing it. Whether that be three months, six months, three years, six years, more, who knows?"
"Social media is fun for me. [The media] do a really good job of giving your impressions of the personalities of the athletes to the fan base or just to people. But you guys are the middle man to me. And why use you when I can tell people who I am? No misconstrued words, let people decide for themselves who you are. And I like to interact with the fan base."