The United States-Mexico soccer rivalry is one of the fiercest in the world, and Herculez Gomez has experienced all sides of that rivalry during his playing career and as an analyst.
Born in California to Mexican-American parents, Gomez played high school soccer in Las Vegas before going pro with Mexico's Cruz Azul as a teenager. After limited playing opportunities, he started playing in the United States where he got an opportunity with Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy.
Gomez scored over 30 goals as an MLS player between 2002 and 2009 before returning to Mexico to play six more seasons, scoring another 30-plus goals for various Liga MX teams.
At the national level, Gomez was capped 24 times for the USMNT, scoring six goals - two of which helped the U.S. qualify for the 2014 World Cup. He was a part of the USMNT's 2010 World Cup squad, but was not selected to their 2014 squad.
Now he works as a soccer analyst, covering both United States and Mexican soccer with equal dedication.
We caught up with Gomez to discuss the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup, the gap between soccer leagues in the United States and Mexico, his new partnership with Camarena Tequila and the future of American soccer.
This interview with Herculez Gomez is made possible by Camarena Tequila.
TheSpun: You've teamed up with Camarena Tequila for their Camarena's Breakfast FC campaign. What made you want to team up with them at this point in your career?
Herculez Gomez: After years of being a player, I can confidently say one of the best parts of the game is the fans. I know many U.S. fans have to wake up early for several soccer games, so Camarena’s Breakfast FC program seemed like the perfect opportunity to connect with them and thank them for their support, while offering a stronger excuse for the early wake up. I’ve always enjoyed Camarena Tequila and while watching soccer, makes for a perfect pairing I couldn’t resist.
TheSpun: For decades Liga MX had a stranglehold over CONCACAF Champions League before the Sounders broke through to win it this year. And this week the MLS All-Stars defeated the Liga MX All-Stars in their exhibition game. Do you think U.S. club soccer finally erased the gap with Mexican club soccer?
HG: No. Liga MX has a hundred year headstart and two decades worth of CONCACAF Champions League winners. The same amount of winners would have to happen from MLS to close the gap. But it is a step in the right direction and Liga MX recognizes the growth of MLS and sees the change happening. It's for sure a wakeup call for Liga MX.
TheSpun: The World Cup is coming up and the U.S. had big games against Wales, England and Iran. Would you care to make your predictions for the U.S. and how far you think they can go?
HG: While I dont think they’re favored out of the group, I do think they get out of the group and I think that's their ceiling. 2022 will be a huge learning moment for all these players, and the vast majority will only be in their mid-20s come 2026 World Cup.
TheSpun: Who's the one player you need to see step up for the U.S. to make a deep run?
HG: (Christian) Pulisic. If we go by WC qualifying he had his moments but they were few and far between. If the US is truly going to make a special run, Christian Pulisic has to be the best version of himself.
TheSpun: Mexico's World Cup group is no pushover with Argentina, Poland and Saudi Arabia on their schedule. Do you see them making noise this time the same way they did in 2018?
HG: They made noise in 2018 the same way they do in every WC - make it out of WC but not to el quinto partido (the quarter-finals). The fans are not just content with Mexico getting out of the group. If they want to make noise they need to escape Messi's Argentina and Robert Lewandowski’s Poland and somehow beat France or the next opponent in the second round. If they can do that, that would be noise.
TheSpun: You've played in both the U.S. and Mexico in your professional career. Is there an overarching difference between the way they play the game in those countries?
HG: When I played, yes. It was a very sharp contrast, tactically, physically, technically. But today, they are very similar. The only difference is the elite in each other's leagues. They are so similar that we see crossover with some of the mid-level stars from LIGA MX to MLS or vice-versa. As a whole, the only differences are the elements, travel, stadiums, surfaces, money - things like that.
TheSpun: Jesse Marsch is making a ton of waves in England as head coach at Leeds United. Is he destined to take the reins of the USMNT, or will he continue to rise in the club coaching ranks?
HG: All signs point to yes, that would be the natural progression, and he even stated that sometime he would want the USMNT job. The only question is when. And why would you want him to take the job anytime soon? When has the US had a coach who was somewhat successful in Europe? The only way I see Jesse Marsch not taking the USMNT job is if he is not successful in Europe.
TheSpun: Who's uncapped for the USMNT that you think will emerge as the next big national team star?
HG: "Gaga" (Gabriel) Slonina. If Chelsea thinks enough to be #1 for $10-$15 million, there's no way he wouldn't be a massive star on USMNT and a prime candidate for the USMNT net for the next decade or so. Teams like Chelsea and (Real) Madrid don't fight over you if they dont think you're going to be a star.
TheSpun: There's been a lot of controversy through the years of which national team Mexican-American soccer players with the option to pick either team will ultimately choose. In your experience, how does that controversy manifest itself in the families of players?
HG: Good question. That's the biggest driving factor in the decision making amongst these kids and people don't realize it. The power of Mexican football in Mexican culture is so strong, and is so big that they carry it with them everywhere they go. So when these kids have to decide to be an influence by fathers, uncles, [and] grandparents that have witnessed how big football is in their culture, so it definitely is a driving factor in the decision making for these kids.
TheSpun: One of the biggest rivalries in all of sports is El Clasico and you're doing a giveaway ahead of this year's big Real Madrid-Barcelona games. Tell us more about the giveaway and your predictions for the first game in October.
HG: The iconic El Clásico is the perfect time to celebrate the sport and recognize U.S. soccer fans, so I’m excited I get to call the giveaway winner on game day to wake them up. The winner of the ultimate viewing party gets to stay in a decked out pad, will receive custom Breakfast FC loungewear, which are super comfortable by the way, and gets to watch the game with a full VIP experience. I wish I could enter!
I predict that after the whooping barca game, madrid in their last clasico Real is going to want to make a point avenging humiliation and are coming about la liga and champions league trophy and barca is coming off of roster reconstruction. I truly feel like this might be one of the matches of the ages. I predict goals, goals and goals. And I'll take a Madrid win too.
The U.S. and Mexico both hope to make a huge splash in the World Cup this November and December. But both teams will need to dig deep just to escape their group stages, let alone make a run in the knockout round.
Herculez Gomez will be watching both teams with extreme interest. And it sounds like he'll have some Camarena Tequila at his side to boot.