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Any self-respecting Vegas kid will tell you that luck can turn in the blink of an eye and the turn of a card. But as his career threatened to settle into a predictable pattern, Herculez Gomez was beginning to wonder if he would ever hit the soccer jackpot.
Just a few months back, the 28-year-old was reflecting on the seventh year of a Major League Soccer career that had once promised much but had become rutted in disappointment and stagnation.
So what do you do to stop your career from heading south? Well, why not head south yourself? Literally.
After three unproductive and injury-ravaged years with the Colorado Rapids and Kansas City Wizards, a switch to Mexican Primera Division side Puebla brought Gomez a return to his natural position of striker, a run of eight goals in 10 games, and – suddenly – a path to a brighter future he had all but given up on.
The Las Vegas native has gone from MLS afterthought to wanted man, with teams in Mexico, MLS and Europe interested in his services when his Puebla deal expires next month.
"If I told you who some of the teams were, you wouldn't believe me," he told Yahoo! Sports in a telephone conversation this week. "It is amazing to think of how quickly things have developed. It has been a quick and crazy journey but I'm loving the ride."
While the rewards for rolling the dice and taking a chance in Mexico have been a higher salary and the potential for an even bigger move, the best prize of all may be still to come.
The World Cup offers the unlikeliest of storylines, but if Gomez can claim a place on Bob Bradley's United States squad it would be one of the tournament's biggest cases of a player "coming from nowhere."
Bradley has already been in telephone contact to offer encouragement. There shouldn't be any surprise there; with the start of the event less than two months away, the head coach is a man with a pressing need for in-form forwards. While Gomez is far from guaranteed a spot, he is well and truly on the radar.
"The coach has been in touch to say he is paying attention to what I am doing," Gomez said. "It wasn't an official call, but he wanted me to know that my performances have been noticed and to keep it going.
"To be in this position is all I can ask for. At the start of the year, I wouldn't have been in anyone's thoughts."
With injury doubts about Charlie Davies and Brian Ching, a group of forwards including Gomez, Robbie Findley, Conor Casey, Jeff Cunningham and Edson Buddle are hungrily eyeing the chance to accompany Jozy Altidore (who has a guaranteed spot barring injury or mishap) in South Africa.
Gomez's achievements for Puebla – where he went in January expecting to be a squad player and instead became a figurehead – means there is no questioning of his credentials south of the border. So much so that some members of the Mexican press even looked into whether it would be possible for him to switch allegiance and play for El Tri (Gomez's parents were Mexican).
That was out of the question, if only because he has already represented the United States in the ill-fated Copa America campaign in 2007, when a weakened side lost all three matches to Argentina, Paraguay and Colombia.
Back then, things were still pretty bright for Gomez. He was coming off a four-year stint with the Los Angeles Galaxy which had seen him score the winner in the 2005 U.S. Open Cup final and be part of the team's MLS Cup triumph the same year.
From that point, though, things would not work out. Moves to the Rapids and then the Wizards failed to bear fruit. Gomez was often employed in midfield and suffered an ACL tear that kept him on the sidelines for months.
"Having a serious injury is a difficult time for any player," he said. "It makes you take a long, hard look at things and wonder where your career is going. I didn't want it to be the beginning of the end, but it was hard to see how things were suddenly going to improve. But they have."
Gomez's career has taken him away from the bright lights of Sin City, where his mother works as an usher at Barry Manilow's show and his father sells used cars. Yet the move to Puebla was the gamble that paid off in dramatic fashion and has given Gomez a sniff of opportunity.
With just two friendlies (against Czech Republic and Turkey) remaining before the squad is announced, time is short. A camp call-up from Bradley would be the first step, then a chance to shine on the field in one of the final warm-up games.
There is not much room for error and there may not be a chance like this again for Herculez Gomez. But that in itself is more than he could have dreamed of at the turn of the year, when at long last his luck changed for the better.
GROUP C WATCH
• England: Boss Fabio Capello urged World Cup referees to protect talented players such as Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi from aggressive "hitman" defenders.
• Algeria: Striker Karim Matmour insists his side will have an advantage over Team USA in light of the Americans' lack of knowledge of the Algerian players.
• Slovenia: World Cup fever gripped the Balkan nation as the tournament trophy was paraded in the capital, Ljubljana, as part of a global tour.
Palermo striker Fabrizio Miccoli this week revealed himself as the mystery buyer of an earring belonging to Argentina legend and now head coach Diego Maradona. Earlier this year, Miccoli paid 25,000 euros for the auction item, which was seized by Italian police as part of an ongoing investigation into Maradona's tax arrears.
Some concerning news came out of South Africa this week: Nearly a quarter of all tickets to the tournament remain unsold. The chief problem appears to be that local fans are not accustomed to using the Internet to purchase. Tournament organizers are launching a new promotion aimed at ensuring full stadiums in June and July.
WORLD CUP NUMEROLOGY
Fifty-six: the numbers of teams which attempted to qualify for 16 spots in the 1958 World Cup. For South Africa 2010, 204 teams fought it out for 32 places.
THE WALKING WOUNDED
• Oguchi Onyewu: AC Milan's medical staff have been quietly pleased with the rehabilitation of the big defender, who is well on course to make the World Cup. Likelihood of selection: 90 percent.
• Charlie Davies: The miraculous return is getting closer and closer as Davies makes remarkable progress from the injuries he sustained in a car crash last year. Likelihood of World Cup selection: 60 percent.
• Stuart Holden: The midfielder is still a couple of weeks away from returning after breaking his leg in March, but he had his stint at Bolton extended until the end of next season. Likelihood of World Cup selection: 90 percent.
• Clint Dempsey: Deuce's latest injury, to his thigh, does not seem to be too serious. He is expected to be back in time for Fulham's Europa League semifinal against Hamburg. Likelihood of World Cup selection: 95 percent.
PUT IT ON YOUR CALENDAR
June 18: A U.S. match will be broadcast in 3D for the first time ever as Bradley's men take on Slovenia at Ellis Park.
- Herculez Gomez