Herculez Gomez's stock with the United States has never been higher. He has emerged as an unquestioned starter for Jurgen Klinsmann and scored the lone goal in the Americans' vital win over Jamaica, giving him a signature moment to go along with his constant presence in every U.S. foray forward. His popularity among the fans has skyrocketed, too, as they revel in seeing the jovial journeyman come good rise to the occasion at the international level.
Unfortunately for Gomez, his rise for country has not coincided with similar success at the club level. In fact, his place at Santos Laguna is as tenuous as ever as the club had turned to a host of young players up front while Gomez languishes on the bench.
Gomez has spent much of his time at Santos coming off the bench, but he was playing and he was a very valuable player at that. He was often Santos' first attacking substitute, capable of playing as a striker or on either wing. And he was effective, to go along with versatile, scoring 13 goals in all competitions and helping Santos do the Clausura title.
Such a campaign would normally keep Gomez in the team and a key part of the team at that, but it hasn't and it is not surprising. Santos never intended Gomez to be a long-term part of the team.
Santos bought Gomez from Estudiantes Tecos, who was short on money and needed to sell players. They saw an opportunity to bring a good player in for a reasonable amount of money and add another piece to an already good team. It proved to be a wise signing and it worked to perfection, as the Clausura victory shows, but the plan was always to bring along the club's young players when they were ready.
This season, those young players are ready. All of a sudden, there is no room for Gomez.
In the last six Liga MX matches 19-year-olds Candido Ramirez, Benji Joya and Alonso Escoboza have all begun to work their ways into the team with regularity. Ramirez was a member of Mexico's U-23 team in the summer and has emerged as one of Santos' top options off the bench, while Joya and Escoboza are just getting their first tastes of senior team action.
Meanwhile, Gomez has played just 27 minutes in Santos' last six Liga MX matches.
Gomez's decreased role is not a matter of injury or tension either. He has made the bench in all six contests, but four times has gone unused as his younger teammates get chances. The 13-goal man of a year ago who is thriving in World Cup qualifying is now surplus at Estadio Corona.
This is all a part of Santos' plan. Gomez was meant to improve them in the short-term, which he did, but the young players were always central to the club's future and that future is now.
The one positive for U.S. fans is that one of those young players, Joya, is an American. Gomez's decreased playing time is at least benefitting one potential national team player, and a bright young one at that. But that still doesn't ease the pain of seeing the Americans' top striker get pushed aside at his club.
Fortunately, even as he gets pushed aside, Gomez isn't being left to rot at Santos. He is still featuring in the CONCACAF Champions League and Gomez will also play a bigger role in the league as the matches grow in importance so his time at Santos is not over. He still has a part to play and an important one at that as Santos chase another title.
But Gomez's future is not with in Torreon. He will leave the club with a champion's medal and once again, the journeyman will search for a new home. Santos' plan is going swimmingly, and as was supposed to happen, the youngsters have won out.