The veteran was waived by Toronto at the beginning of this season and has taken a significant pay cut to chase this title with the Sounders.
Sounders forward Herculez Gomez loudly voiced his displeasure with former employer Toronto FC upon his arrival in Seattle back in late March.
The veteran forward had been waived by TFC a few weeks earlier, and so eager was the Canadian club to have Gomez off its books that it picked up a significant chunk of his initial Sounders salary.
“I think it was poorly managed,” Gomez said at the time. “It put me in a situation that was unfair. I think they’re great people, but the poor mismanagement from the front office put me in a very hard spot. … I have a pretty big chip on my shoulder with how things ended in Toronto. It’s not sour grapes, but there’s a way of going about things and a way of treating people.”
Gomez’s past and present teams will meet in the 2016 MLS Cup, as you might have heard, with Toronto hosting the Sounders at BMO Field next Saturday night. Asked Thursday whether the serendipitous matchup would give him another jolt of motivation before the league championship game, the 34-year-old was more diplomatic.
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“No,” Gomez said with a tight smile and a long pause. “No. I’m fortunate to be here.”
Later he’d elaborate: “Toronto is just a rival. It’s nothing personal. … It’s funny how soccer works out. This kind of thing happens more often than not.”
Fate does tend to bend in this direction when your name is Herculez Gomez.
His has been a career often fueled by perceived slights and disrespect. This is the player who was written off by much of MLS toward the end of the last decade, only to resurface as the leading scorer in Mexico’s more prestigious Liga MX.
Gomez was traded by Sporting Kansas City in late 2008 for allocation money, a fourth-round SuperDraft pick and a supplemental draft pick. Less than two years later, thriving in the Mexican league, he was named to the U.S. national team roster for the 2010 World Cup.
All of that background rose to the surface upon his arrival in Seattle earlier this year as a trialist being promised only the chance to win a roster spot. Pride bruised from his falling out with Toronto, Gomez almost seemed to relish in it.
“I feel like a little kid right now,” Gomez said. “I feel like I did when I was 20 years old and I had to prove somebody wrong, hungry for an opportunity.”
Gomez’s initial Sounders contract, the one heavily subsidized by TFC, ran out at the end of June. He’d proven himself as a valuable depth guy and influential locker room presence. In order for the team to fit him under the salary cap, however, Gomez had to agree to a substantial pay cut.
Gomez was set to make more than $300,000 this season in Toronto, per the league’s players’ union. The contract extension signed with the Sounders in June is for a veteran minimum of $62,500.
Gomez has said from the beginning of his Seattle tenure that he was interested only in chasing another title before he rides off into the sunset. Whether he articulates as much or not, lifting MLS Cup in Toronto’s home stadium would be another moment of vindication in a career full of them.
“To go up against Toronto and to be in the situation where I’m at right now, with the way things have played out this year, it’s kind of fairy tale,” Gomez said. “I don’t know how much longer I’ve got, and moments like this are cherished and appreciated.
“I knew when I came here that my contract was up in the summer. Seattle said, ‘Look, this is going to be a minimum contract. If you’d like to stay, we’d love to have you. We’re trying to make a push.’ I knew there was something special here, and my wife and I wanted to be a part of this. That, more than anything, is validation, that we made the right choice and are in a good place.”
But seriously, no part of him has thought about how sweet it would be to silence a packed BMO Field?
“No,” he responded, again with the smile and the pause. “Nope. I will take whatever role I have.
“I will say that it wouldn’t be my style if there wasn’t this kind of story involved.”