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World Cup soccer preview: Mighty Herculez knows his odds are long

South Africa hosts competition June 11-July 11

Posted: April 20, 2010 11:41 a.m.
Updated: April 20, 2010 11:40 a.m.
 
MEXICO CITY (AP) - Herculez Gomez grew up in Las Vegas, so he understands the odds are against him representing the United States at the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament, which starts in South Africa June 11.

But he may be worth a bet.

Gomez scored twice more on Sunday for Puebla in a 4-1 victory over Cruz Azul in the Mexican league. He has 10 to share the league lead and is threatening to become the first American to finish as the Mexican first division's top scorer.

He had eight goals in the span of 10 games, mostly as a substitute.

"I know I'm the longest shot there's ever been in the U.S., but I'll take it. That's all I can do," said Gomez, who played twice for the U.S. three years ago. "I know about odds, and I know the odds are stacked against me."

U.S. coach Bob Bradley is looking for forwards because two of his top three, Charlie Davies and Brian Ching, are sidelined with injuries. Only Jozy Altidore seems certain to play, which makes it difficult to write off a striker such as Gomez who is scoring - and one named for the greatest hero of Greek mythology.

"A lot has to do with luck and timing," Gomez said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I'm going to do everything I can in my power to be ready if called upon."

It was Gomez's father who named his son Herculez and spelled it with a "z'' to match the "z'' on Gomez.

"All the nurses thought he was crazy," Gomez said. "He just wanted to give my name a little ring."

His season hasn't been a myth.

Gomez is tied for the Mexican scoring lead with Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez of Chivas Guadalajara, who is expected to move next season to Manchester United on a $9.1 million transfer, and Johan Fano of Atlante.

Hernandez has finished his club season and is training with Mexico. Gomez's club season might also be over.

Although he scored twice last Sunday, Gomez also was given two yellow cards, which should rule him out of the regular-season finale this Sunday at Toluca. Puebla is appealing the second yellow card, which Gomez got for simulation - or diving.

"I'm not holding my breath. You know how these things go," Gomez said. "But I think the league would like to see a race for the goal-scoring title."

The 28-year-old was a second-half substitute for the U.S. against Argentina and started against Colombia at the 2007 Copa America. But then he had surgery twice in three years on his right knee and played as a midfielder in Major League Soccer, helping the Los Angeles Galaxy to the 2005 title.

"I started off showing a lot of promise, but I fell a little short of what people were expecting and so it was frustrating," Gomez said. "But I'll be quite honest. I learned a tremendous amount playing in the MLS and I owe a lot to the MLS. I'm the player I am today because of the league."

Since joining Puebla in January from Kansas City, he's been playing up front, mostly as a substitute, for coach Jose Luis Sola.

"I think the style of play suits me a little bit better here," Gomez said. "To be quite honest, it's been a while since I've played up top as a forward. That could be the reason. I know where I'm dangerous and where I can help a team out. I think my most dangerous place to be is in front of the goal."

U.S. Soccer Federation officials will say only they are aware of Gomez, who was born in Los Angeles and moved to Las Vegas as a child.

"As a staff we are constantly monitoring and evaluating the fitness and form of U.S. players both here and abroad," was all Bradley would say.

Gomez has become a minor celebrity in Puebla, 70 miles (110 kilometers) east of Mexico City. His parents, Manuel and Juanita, attended Sunday's game on one of their few trips back to their Mexica homeland. His girlfriend Kristiane Thompson also has been to Puebla to absorb the excitement.

"What I'm going through right now is something I am going to be telling my kids about when I'm older," Gomez said. "It's been such a great ride. It's going to something for the rest of my life that will be hard to top."

Of course, pulling on the U.S. jersey in South Africa would be even better.

"It felt amazing wearing it coming in against Argentina. That was incredible," Gomez said. "I can't really describe what it would feel like to wear it in the World Cup, on the world's biggest stage. For a football player, that's the maximum goal."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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