The last time Herculez Gomez had started for the United States, he was hauled off at halftime against Algeria in the World Cup. He got junk minutes against Ghana a few days later and then spent two years growing stubble south of the border, even calling himself a "former U.S. international."
Given his tenacious display against Brazil, in which he was a rare bright spot in a 4-1 loss, the 30-year-old is certainly back in the mix.
"I think we found a striker that is very mobile, that is a fighter, that keeps defenders very busy, that is also nasty to do certain things," Jurgen Klinsmann said. "That's important."
Gomez scored the Americans' only goal seconds before halftime. His darting run across the box shook off Juan to let the Santos Laguna forward scramble home a scrappy stooping header from a deflected Fabian Johnson cross.
In the second half, a clever Gomez header back across goal stranded goalkeeper Rafael and only the width of the spike on Romulo's cleat kept Clint Dempsey from poking home.
"He makes nice runs and he's clever, you know," captain Carlos Bocanegra said. "He gets in good spots. When he gets a shot on goal he has a great strike.
"When he got a little bit of space he caused them problems. For not a big guy he did well to hold up the ball tonight."
Gomez led the team with four shots and four fouls drawn.
So what goes through his mind, lining up against five-time world champion Brazil, after two years of scoring bucket loads in Mexico but international rejection?
"I looked across me and I saw Thiago [Silva]," Gomez said. "What do I got to lose? So I went out and played."
That type of attitude was missing from most of his teammates. Aside from Gomez, only Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson and Tim Howard came away with much credit as Brazil extended its winning run against the USA to nine in a row.
"Sometimes you see Brazil on the calender and you go in with a lot of respect for these types of players," Gomez said, "but they're just like us. They bleed. They hurt. So we got to get after it."
How many more chances will Gomez have to get after it? He appears to have dragged himself above the powerful but raw Terrence Boyd, who started against Scotland, in the pecking order, but there's still the small matter of Jozy Altidore. The AZ Alkmaar striker arrived at camp late and is expected to lead the line in World Cup qualifying.
"A guy like Jozy Altidore comes in and does very well for the United States team. Hard to move someone like that," Bocanegra said. "That's the thing – you don't always get your chance with the U.S. team and when you do you got to take it. Herculez has definitely shown he can play at this level. He's pushing to be in the team full-time now."
At the end of the 2009 season, when his contract with the Kansas City Wizards expired, no MLS clubs showed any interest. Now the U.S. national team captain is talking about Herculez Gomez as a steady international. (Reporter: Does Gomez deserve a second chance after this game? Bocanegra: "Definitely.") Stories don't get much more heart-warming.
"I had fun," Herculez Gomez said.
Seth Vertelney contributed additional reporting to this article
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- Herculez Gomez