It’s been a tough season for the Seattle Sounders, and the pressure has clearly started to boil over in a few of the players. Captain Brad Evans, clearly frustrated with the level of commitment from some of his teammates in last weekend’s loss to NYCFC, lashed out a bit in his post-match comments. Despite only being with the Sounders this season, Herculez Gomez is an experienced soccer and MLS veteran, and knows all too well about the ups and downs of professional soccer. "Yeah, I mean guys aren’t happy. We’re frustrated, we expect more from ourselves. To me, that’s good. Guys shouldn’t be happy."
For Gomez, the act of losing itself isn’t the real problem—how a team loses is more important in his mind. "We can all lose, we’ve all lost. We’re not gonna win every game," he said, "it’s how you lose, what you didn’t do, what you showed or didn’t show that I think puts a bad taste in people’s mouths." The team hasn’t had a chance to regroup and talk about the loss and the attitude around the locker room, but Gomez expects that to happen sooner rather than later.
Gomez echoed his coach’s comments about confidence regarding winning and scoring goals, saying that "when the goals don’t go in, wins don’t go your way, you start lacking confidence." He said that this "is normal and natural" for professional soccer players, and that it goes both ways. He sees Clint Dempsey’s confidence after his great run with the US national team in the Copa America as a great example of what scoring goals does for a player.
In that same vein, Gomez says that one player can’t be relied on to put an entire team on his back—even Lionel Messi, whose Argentina squad lost in the Copa America final on Sunday night. So to expect a guy like Dempsey to make up for an entire team’s shortcomings is unreasonable, according to Gomez. "It’s gonna take a group effort, and Clint’s one of the many [players] we have here that are very capable of doing things. But it’s unfair to him and it’s unfair to the group to say that one guy has to put the team on his back."
Tuesday’s Open Cup match is probably a great chance for fringe and young players to make a name for themselves, and Gomez thinks that Saturday’s poor performance means that some positions are much less secure than they might have been previously. "I think the big chance for a lot of guys, I think the door was left open for next week’s lineup. So if you show well, you can stake a claim."
As far as the Open Cup, the Sounders are taking it very seriously, according to Gomez. The act of winning a trophy is very important to him and his teammates, because even if they aren’t able to make a run for the MLS Cup this season, there’s no reason to completely abandon the chance for Open Cup glory. "At the end of the day, goals and stuff is great, but the only stat that matters is wins and trophies." Gomez even suggested that a good performance on Tuesday could produce positive vibes that carry over into Saturday’s match at Toronto FC. "It doesn’t matter if it’s Open Cup...if you’re accustomed to winning, that translates. Winning has to be a habit for us. We still have to grind out results."
Winning and grinding out results have been part of Gomez’s life as a forward at clubs all over the US and Mexico, and he knows what it’s like to be in the kind of slump that the Sounders and some of his teammates are in. "Sometimes you’re doing everything and the ball doesn’t go in, and there are times you’re just doing that same stuff and everything goes in."
Gomez sees that as one of the things plaguing his teammate Nelson Valdez this season. "He’s in a position where everything is very transparent: salary, where you come from, expectations...so he’s got a lot more pressure than anybody else on the team." He was less than pleased to see former teammate Eddie Johnson’s tweets comparing Valdez’s salary and goals scored with that of Johnson while he played for the Sounders. Gomez referenced Johnson’s underwhelming stint at Fulham in the English Premier League, and said that while Johnson’s salary at the Sounders could have been better, "I don’t think anybody would have said it was unfair."
Either way, Gomez called Johnson’s comments about Valdez "strange," partially because every professional has had slumps during their careers. He says that Valdez’s professionalism is of the highest order, that "I’m sure if you asked Nelson if he’d rather have a hat trick and you lose 4-3 or a 1-0 win and he doesn’t score, he’d say the win."
Even though Gomez reiterated that Valdez is "the ultimate team-first kind of guy...who works his ass off," he also recognizes that DP-level players are held to a certain standard that Valdez isn’t meeting. "He’s very professional, he holds himself very accountable, but he’s been very unlucky. But let’s be honest, he plays a position right now where it’s gonna be hard for him." Gomez cites the form of Jordan Morris and a system that doesn’t really suit Valdez’s style as one of the reasons that the Paraguayan hasn’t made a splash this season.
Even though the season is nearing its halfway point, Gomez still thinks that the Sounders have a shot at glory in 2016. "Times are tough, it’s an unbalanced schedule and there’s plenty of time. We’re by no means out of the race."