Herculez Gomez made a name for himself by putting the ball in the back of the net. It was in 2010 when he became the first American to lead a foreign first-division in scoring, bagging 10 goals in 15 appearances for Puebla of Liga MX. He's never quite matched that goal haul, but he proved himself a steady scorer while moving around Mexico's top flight and working himself into a semi-regular spot with the United States national team.
But it's now been four years since he's scored more than one goal in a league season, forcing the 34-year-old to rethink his game a little. Once a piano player, Gomez is now more of a piano mover. In five appearances for the Sounders -- including starts in three straight games -- Gomez has most often been more of a facilitator, even going as far as taking non-shooting free kicks and corners.
"Herculez has been very workmanlike and very professional in his efforts," Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said following Saturday's 2-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes. "He is not getting a lot of glory in terms of shots and assists, which is sometimes what a forward wants and what his career has been all about, but what he has done - he has sacrificed his game and he opens up space for Joevin [Jones]. He is another guy who has done a great job for the team."
A quick look at Gomez's non-set piece action map shows a picture of a player who's more concerned with doing little things like sending in crosses and tracking back on defense than with grabbing the glory.
"Right now, this is reminding what I had to do with the national team," Gomez said. "For lack of a better term, I work my ass off, stay connected, try to get on the end of things, try to be dangerous on set pieces and be a good teammate. At this stage in my career, I'm very honest with myself, I know as a team it feels great to win and that will keep me on the field. In order to do that, we need our most dangerous players higher up the pitch. If you can sacrifice a little more so that someone like Clint can get a clean look on goal, that's what we need to do."
That Dempsey had arguably his most effective match of the season on Saturday doesn't seem to be a coincidence. While Dempsey's heat map looked pretty similar to previous weeks, there was a sense that he wasn't dropping as far back, perhaps more confident that Gomez would pick up the defensive slack and Erik Friberg would do a better job of transitioning the ball to the offense.
The Sounders are still a far cry from the flashy and wide open play that often defined their best moments over the last couple of years, but they are getting results.
"I think we're working toward putting together a complete 90, which is almost impossible," Gomez said. "It's a huge cliche, but it's the ultimate goal. I feel the way we're going about that is with our attitude and work ethic. We're rolling up our sleeves, making it very difficult to play against us. We press, we double team, we know when to collapse, we're just being very good teammates for each other. That's creating turnovers in good spots for us that allowing our offensive unit -- all four us -- to create and be dangerous.
"I'm enjoying it, I'm 34 and busting my ass."