EAST HARTFORD, CT - MAY 25: Herculez Gomez #30 of the United States celebrates against the Czech Republic at Rentschler Field on May 25, 2010 in East Hartford, Connecticut. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Herculez Gomez is a forward. He made his mark on United States soccer seven years ago with the LA Galaxy as a forward, led the Mexican Primera in goals two years ago as a forward and played in three World Cup matches as a forward. So why is Santos Laguna playing him as predominantly a winger?
The answer is pretty simple -- he's been good there. Well, there's that and the fact that they have Oribe Peralta and while a different kind of player, Carlos Quintero, too. So maybe being good on the wing isn't the primary reason that Gomez has spent much of his time with Santos out wide on both the left and right, but that he has proven capable out wide has given him a home with Santos and has allowed him to find the field in between his occasional appearances up top.
But back with the U.S. team, Gomez is still a forward. He's highly though of too, at least by Jurgen Klinsmann, as evidenced by his starting the Americans' last five matches as a lone striker. He's put in solid performances in the U.S. shirt despite his not being the ideal lone striker and the U.S. has not lost in their last four matches, so the results are there, but might it be time for him to make the same position change at the international level that he has made for Santos?
One of Klinsmann's biggest problems since taking over the U.S. team has been his last of a right winger. Bob Bradley had the same problem and often played without wingers, turning to Alejandro Bedoya when he needed some width, but Bedoya has struggled for playing time and isn't an option for Klinsmann, leaving him without a man to turn to on the right.
In the last year, Klinsmann has trotted Danny Williams out on several occasions and the out-of-postion Hoffenheim man has yet to put in a decent shift. Graham Zusi has even gotten a look and the only semi-palatable option has been Landon Donovan, but Donovan is not available for the Americans' qualifiers against Jamaica as he deals with a hamstring injury.
In Donovan's absence, who can Klinsmann turn to? Williams would be more of the same and Zusi, while promising, isn't the answer right now, nor is he really a winger. Joe Corona is another player in the mix and he's in good form, but tossing the kid out there in an away qualifier and asking him to go at least an hour, maybe longer is a tough ask. The only good answer is Gomez, and it is a very fine answer at that.
Gomez might be Klinsmann's choice up top, but Jozy Altidore or Terrence Boyd up top and Gomez right is far superior to Gomez up top and any other option on the right. A slight step down at striker, if it even is step down, is worth it for the massive improvement that the U.S. will get out wide with Gomez.
One possibility for Klinsmann is to play without a true winger and play more narrow, as he has done before, but that is suicide against Jamaica. They are too fast and close down midfielders too quickly at home to play narrow. It will turn into a giveaway-fest, especially without Michael Bradley in the midfield.
The U.S. needs to play with width and stretch Jamaica wide, even if only to create space in the middle. Fabian Johnson can almost do that single-handedly on the left, especially if Brek Shea starts and can help him out, but Steve Cherundolo isn't as adventurous as he used to be, so the Americans need a real winger on the right.
Gomez isn't a pure, out-and-out winger. He is still a forward who is probably best as a winger/forward in a 4-3-3, but even in the 4-2-3-1 that Klinsmann will likely turn to, he is the best that the U.S. has. He is disciplined enough to stay wide when asked to, as he has proven with Santos, and his crossing has improved. Gomez also give the U.S. another goal-scoring threat, having scored a handful of his 13 goals for Santos last year from wide positions. The threat of his cutting in at attacking the goal will make it easier for Cherundolo to get involved.
There is only one position on the field where the U.S. is truly without an option and that is on the right, where they are only without an option because Gomez is still considered a forward only. Gomez is the Americans' option on the right, just as he was on both wings for Santos last year. All it takes is a simple re-think of the player. They did it south of the border, and now it's Klinsmann's turn.