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EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – He comes with a hero's name and a story that is too-good-to-be-true all-American. And on Tuesday night, Herculez Gomez headed a ball past Czech Republic goalkeeper Petr Cech to score a goal for the United States. A precious goal.
It was something this American team desperately needs: someone who can deliver.
And still in a tunnel beneath Rentschler Field, Gomez stood uncertain if he will be going to the World Cup when the USA's final 23-man roster is announced on Wednesday. Nothing in the words of U.S. coach Bob Bradley could properly be parsed to give away any hints.
"I saw plays tonight that, for me, need to be better," Bradley said, his words seemingly dousing a dream.
"[But] he scored a goal, which is very important in this thing," Bradley added, giving hope to Gomez.
If there is a glaring weakness on the U.S., which lost Tuesday's friendly to the Czech Republic 4-2, it is its ability to score. Goals are such precious commodities and here is a player who suddenly has shown a wonderful ability to put balls into the net. Can Bradley afford to leave him off the team?
The thought dangled in the stadium's hallways Tuesday night.
Perhaps a testament to where soccer has come in this country rests in the way the people have reacted to the seemingly irrelevant battle to see who will be the final players to make the American squad. Throughout the USA's training camp in New Jersey last week, the talk was less about the more established stars and more about players like DeMarcus Beasley, the midfielder who appeared to have played himself off the team and was suddenly creeping back on, and Edson Buddle, a 29-year-old forward who is probably getting his last chance to make a World Cup.
The drama has been heightened by the decision to make the announcement of the roster a spectacle, revealing the choices live on television as the lucky 23 stare into the cameras with smiles while a disappointed handful slowly make their way to the airport with no trip to the White House on Thursday, no friendly against Turkey in Philadelphia on Saturday and no space on the fight to South Africa.
Unsure which conversation he would have with Bradley sometime early the following morning, Gomez looked back toward the field with the lights still blazing and said, if nothing, he will have this night, this goal as a member of the U.S. national team – World Cup or not.
"I said I had 29 players ahead of me and I looked down at my number and it was 30," he said laughing.
The final spot for which Gomez has been fighting is for someone who can come off the bench late in a game and provide a spark, a goal that can make all the difference. He was accustomed to scoring goals off the bench in his seven seasons in Major League Soccer. He scored 10 this season for Puebla in Mexico's top league to become the first American to lead a foreign league in scoring. That alone got him to this camp. Before that, he hadn't even been a thought for the American team.
He is 28 with a career checkered with stops in San Diego, Los Angeles, Colorado and Kansas City. In all likelihood, this is his only shot at a World Cup.
But will it be enough? Will scoring a goal in a game that was supposed to be the final tryout for the U.S. team help?
He couldn't know on Tuesday night. He said he had "mixed emotions."
Sometimes being known for scoring goals is a burden. It's all you become known for and you're not seen as a complete player.
"That's what I've been trying to do the whole camp is show I can be a guy who can put the ball in the back of the net," Gomez said.
Had he? He couldn't know.
The best story with the hero's name and a special ability to score goals walked toward the bus.
"I won't say, 'What if?' " he said. "It's out of my hands."