Gomez uses complicated MLS relationship to fuel his fire

Posted by Jason Davis

When Herculez Gomez scored against Seattle in the opening leg of the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League Tuesday night in Santos' 1-0 win, it was just the latest example of the ex-MLSer trolling a team from his former league. Based on the evidence, of which his Twitter account is a large part, riling up MLS fans and teams riling up MLS fans and teams is one of Gomez’s real pleasures.

Every time he scores against an MLS side -- and he’s done it eight times in Champions League play -- Gomez has the look of a spurned lover reveling in showing off his new, hotter girlfriend to the ex who dumped him.

It’s hard to blame Gomez for his glee. After starting his MLS career on a high with the LA Galaxy and scoring 18 goals in 30 appearances across all competitions, Gomez was traded twice, forced out of his natural position, and ultimately marginalized to the point of deciding his the best thing for his career was to move to Mexico.

He has flourished in Mexico with four different teams (Puebla, Pachuca, Tecos before Santos), scoring goals and pushing himself into a regular spot with the U.S. national team. His run of success south of the border stands as public evidence one of Major League Soccer’s most grievous mistakes, a constant reminder that the American league failed in its most basic reason for being: Getting the most out of an obviously talented American player.

Somewhere under the surface of Herculez Gomez’s April Fools' Day tweet -- in which he joked that he was returning to MLS as a member of Chivas USA, complete with photo of himself in a Chivas USA jersey -- lies the truth about his relationship with the league that reared him. The best description might be “uneasy”, though even that word fails to capture what appears to be much more complicated.

Yes, he revels in showing MLS what it’s missing every time he scores against them in the Champions League. But does that mean Gomez has actual ill will towards MLS? Or that he wouldn’t consider a return at some point in the future? And what about the league’s reciprocal feelings towards Gomez?

Outwardly, Gomez is complimentary about MLS and the league’s burgeoning quality. He makes it point to recognize MLS, and specifically Sigi Schmid, formerly with the LA Galaxy, as crucial to his development as a professional player. But obvious hurt feelings remain, raw nerves still sensitive years after (he believes) MLS failed him and he found success in Mexico. In the follow-up to his April Fools' gag, once the joke was revealed, Gomez made a point to state that no MLS team has contacted him (he doesn't have an agent) about a return to the U.S.

If true, and there’s no reason to doubt Gomez, it’s confounding bit of information that only further muddies the Gomez/MLS relationship waters.

On the surface, Gomez’s revelation makes it appear MLS teams are ignoring him, despite his Mexican success and national team pedigree. How could that be? Are all 19 MLS teams “angry” at Gomez for his consistent MLS trolling? Are they so sensitive to Gomez’s grudge against MLS that they aren’t even bothering to try and lure him back? After realizing his full potential, is he now too expensive? Is getting back together just too hard to do?

Of course, Gomez isn’t available to every MLS team. Per the league’s restrictive policies, Gomez’s rights belong to the last MLS team for which he played, Sporting Kansas City. Despite pushing Gomez into the midfield and playing a significant role in his bolting for Mexico, SKC holds Gomez’s rights simply because they made him a contract offer back in 2009.

If any other MLS team wants to secure Gomez’s services, they’ll have to work out a trade with Peter Vermes. That fact alone could scare off any potential suitors, and puts Gomez’s tweet in a much different light. Rather than proving that MLS is (still) doing wrong by Las Vegas-born star, it’s another indictment of the MLS system and the manner in which it prevents free negotiation for a player who would be a huge asset to Major League Soccer no matter where he played.

Gomez, as a USMNT player and Liga MX star, has the amazing ability to turn from hero to villain and back again, depending on whether he’s representing club or country. He seems to enjoy that duality. It appears to drive him in some way. And since he enjoys playing both sides, he has little incentive to go out of his way to make MLS look good, or to explain how their rules might play a part in his lack of serious suitors.

Maybe it’s part of what drives him, making his Mexican and USMNT success even possible. Maybe Herculez Gomez back in MLS wouldn’t work because it would rob him of some of the motivation he used to go from MLS afterthought to where he is today.

Things didn’t work out between MLS and Herculez Gomez, and he has no intention of letting it go.

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