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Gomez dreams of scoring one for Las Vegas

It would mean more because of that job at Abercrombie & Fitch while trying to make it with an indoor team and coaching two youth sides in San Diego.

Because of the time he spent with a third-division team called the Gauchos.

Because of the roller-coaster ride that has been the Mexican professional leagues.

Because of that $16,500 annual salary with the Galaxy.

Because of the two knee surgeries.

Because of those inconsistent Major League Soccer seasons in Colorado and Kansas City.

Because every time Herculez Gomez might have thought the dream was just too darn difficult to chase any more, that life might be easier if he found a passion away from a grass field and two goals, a soccer ball would appear within range of his foot and he would create more magic.

Mostly, though, it would mean more because of where he learned to play.

“Let’s not kid ourselves,” Gomez said. “If you grow up a soccer player, it is your dream to play in a World Cup. And to be able to represent Las Vegas, to show people around the world who know of our city that a player from it could reach such a point, I would be very proud.

“I would love to be known as the kid from Vegas who opened such a door for others from our city. Soccer is growing incredibly in Las Vegas. I want kids there to know that nothing is impossible if you work hard enough for it.”

He is like the Greek Hercules (except for the z) in that he has a gift and his journey of discovery has included a few tumbles into darkness, or at least onto some dusty, rock-filled pitches with not a soul watching. Gomez has mostly been felled by bad timing and fewer opportunities. He nearly quit in 2002. He nearly left the magical foot on the grass field for good.

He didn’t and is forever grateful today.

An American has never led Mexico’s first division in scoring, but Gomez is tied for the lead with 10 goals this season playing mostly as a reserve with Puebla. He is 28, moved here from California at 10, competed for Las Vegas High, won state titles at the youth and prep level and might become the longest shot to make a U.S. World Cup team in history.

Gomez might be Jack Fleck against Ben Hogan or Buster Douglas against Mike Tyson or Rulon Gardner against Alexander Karelin. He might be Upset against Man o’ War. He might be the other Hercules against 12 impossible tasks. Those kind of odds.

But like when he scored off a scissors kick on his first day of practice with a Neusport Club in town, like when he dyed his hair blond so national team coaches would glance his way during a tryout years ago, Gomez continuing to find the back of a net in a first division league has people in high places noticing.

The U.S. begins World Cup play against England on June 12 in South Africa and the American roster today is thin at forward, with injuries having sent Charlie Davies and Brian Ching to the sidelines.

You still need to score to win, and when a striker like Gomez is playing this well this close to the sport’s biggest event, even though his national team experience is limited to two matches and 67 minutes, there is a fleeting hope his telephone will ring the next few weeks and his name placed on a preliminary U.S. roster.

“What amazes me the most is all he has overcome to reach this point,” said Frank Lemmon, who was born in Argentina and coached Gomez for eight years with Neusport. “The reality is, with the infrastructure of U.S. soccer, when you don’t come up through the Olympic Development Program or don’t go to a UCLA or Virginia or Indiana, it’s very hard to break through. What amazes me is all he has had to overachieve just to be noticed.

“But one thing is, the kid could always score. He could score from anywhere. Good pace, wicked, hard shot, a nose for the goal when he’s facing it. He is lethal and accurate. I have always believed he can be as good and as effective as any U.S. striker.

“If he would make it, it might be the first time I ever cheer for the U.S. over Argentina in a World Cup.”

The national team opens training camp May 15. It must submit a final World Cup roster by June 1.

Herculez Gomez sits and waits and prays for the call. Sits and waits and prays to be the one from Las Vegas, the one others point to for years to come.

Where are Hermes and Athena when you really need them?

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618.

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