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In the Line of Fire
Grant Wahl
February 04, 2013
U.S. STRIKER HÉRCULEZ GÓMEZ RESCUED HIS CAREER SOUTH OF THE BORDER, AND NOW HE'S THRIVING IN ONE OF THE WORLD'S DEADLIEST CITIES
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February 04, 2013

In The Line Of Fire

U.S. STRIKER HÉRCULEZ GÓMEZ RESCUED HIS CAREER SOUTH OF THE BORDER, AND NOW HE'S THRIVING IN ONE OF THE WORLD'S DEADLIEST CITIES

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For someone who plays the glamour position of center forward, Gómez has an outsized appetite for unglamorous tasks: high-pressure defending, constant movement and hustle plays that change games. A perfect example came in a must-win qualifier against Guatemala last October. With the U.S. trailing 1--0 early on, most players would have given up on a ball that was rolling toward the touchline for an opposing goal kick. Instead, Gómez raced to the spot, fought off a defender and won a corner. Carlos Bocanegra scored off the ensuing kick, keying a 3--1 U.S. rout. The spark for the comeback was an effort that could only be described as Herculean.

"If I'm constantly buzzing and being a pest, things are going to open up for guys who are good on the ball, like Clint, or open up channels that Michael can get into," Gómez explains. "If I do more work on the defensive side, Clint can concentrate on the offensive side, which is where we really need him. I know I have that motor. In order to keep having these opportunities, I need to kill myself every game."

Is Gómez good enough to lead the U.S. frontline at World Cup 2014 in Brazil? Maybe. He'll get plenty of competition for playing time from Jozy Altidore, the 23-year-old striker who has 15 goals in the Dutch league for AZ Alkmaar.

But Brazil is too far away to think about right now, what with the U.S. scheduled for 10 World Cup qualifiers in 2013, including daunting road trips in the next six weeks: first to Honduras and then—the one on Gómez's mind—to Mexico, at Estadio Azteca, on March 26.

"If I'm lucky enough to be on that field ... I couldn't tell you what the emotion would be like," says Gómez. "It's a special game for me, not only because of my heritage but because I play in this league. There's nobody that wants to win that game more than I do, and for lack of a better term, I'll be in the crossfire."

For once, it's a crossfire Gómez is happy to join.

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