Originally posted on Fox Soccer  |  Last updated 4/17/12
Herculez Gomez is no stranger to playing in finals or big tournaments. He won an MLS Cup with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2005, played for the United States in the 2010 World Cup, and represented Pachuca in the 2010 Club World Cup. One event the American striker doesn't have on his impressive resume is a CONCACAF Champions League Final: something he is getting ready to add beginning on Wednesday night. Gomez and high-scoring Santos Laguna take on defending champion Monterrey in the first leg in a series expected to provide plenty of fireworks. With all due respect to Major League Soccer, there is little disputing the fact that Santos Laguna and Monterrey have been two of the most impressive teams in North America in recent years. Both clubs currently boast the two most dangerous offenses in the region. It will be an entertaining series, a must-see clash for any American soccer fan who ever hoped could see Mexico's best teams play on American television, on an English-language broadcast. "You're looking at two teams that definitely have the firepower to score goals, and there will be goals scored in this series," Gomez told FOX Soccer. "You have to respect (Monterrey's) track record, and their manager's record speaks for itself. But, we feel like we have a strong team that is definitely good enough to win the series and lift the trophy." On one side, you have defending CONCACAF winners Monterrey, the club that beat Real Salt Lake in last year's final. Led by manager, Juan Manuel Vucetich and star strikers Humberto Suazo, Aldo DeNigris and Angel Reyna, as well as goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco, Santos will be looking to join Pachuca (2007-2008) and Cruz Azul (1996-1997, 1969-1971) as the only teams to repeat as CONCACAF club champions. "I think this is an extraordinary chapter in our history, without a doubt a good moment," Vucetich told media leading up to the match. "From a football standpoint, this is a complete team and our success is a clearly a testament to our players." On the other side, you have fellow northern Mexico side Santos Laguna. A club with a tradition of fielding strong teams, Santos has a long reputation of falling just short of winning titles. The current installment of Santos Laguna looks well-equipped to erase that 'also-rans' label, boasting the most dangerous attack in the Mexican League. It's an offense that includes standouts such as forward Oribe Peralta and Darwin Quintero, as well as midfield aces Marc Crosas and Daniel Luduena. Santos has been led in Champions League play by Herculez Gomez, who has emerged as Santos' most potent scoring threat in the knockout rounds. Gomez enters this championship series as the most in-form player in the series, having scored 11 goals in his past eight matches. He has been dealing with some nagging injuries, and sat out Santos Laguna's recent league matches. However, Gomez plans on taking part in his first CONCACAF Champions League Final. "Truth be told, I wasn't one hundred percent in the earlier rounds of the tournament either, but when you get to these important games you just have to fight through it," Gomez said. "Being a part of this series, and with it being the rivalry that it is, it's going to be something soccer fans aren't going to want to miss." "The truth is this is more than just a final," Santos defender Aaron Galindo told media leading up to the series. "We are playing Monterrey, and for the people of Torreon it's a northern Clasico. It means everything to be able to win and play in an international event like the Club World Cup." The two teams vying for the CONCACAF title are very similar. Both boast forward lines stacked with talent. Both teams possess dangerous midfields capable of breaking down any defense. Both teams also boast strong goalkeepers capable of winning a game single-handedly. So what will make the difference in such a closely-contested series between two stacked teams? For Santos, the difference could be Gomez, who has looked unstoppable in recent weeks. Though he's about to face the toughest defense he has seen in some time, Gomez welcomes the challenge. "When you have a match-up like this, between two great teams with two great managers, a lot of things get thrown out the window," Gomez said. "When it comes down to crunch time, it's going to boil down to who can keep their composure and who finishes their chances. "The first leg in Monterrey will be vital," said Gomez. "If we can keep our composure and play well there, then having the second leg in Torreon could be a great advantage for us. "It won't be an easy series for either team," added Gomez. "But it definitely isn't going to be a boring one either."
PLAYERS: Herculez Gomez
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