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Santos' Gomez fired up to face Schmid and Seattle; more Mailbag

It's hard not to love Herculez Gómez. The U.S. sniper is one of the few soccer players I've covered who plays with a chip on his shoulder and a smile. How many athletes can say they're driven by slights but also manage to have an upbeat sense of humor about them?

Take the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal starting March 7 between the Seattle Sounders and Mexico's second-place Santos Laguna, which picked up Gómez for the new season. When I asked Gómez if he was looking forward to the matchup, he couldn't hide his enthusiasm.

"It's going to be fun," said the 29-year-old, who played for three MLS teams from 2002 to '09. "I got loaned out to the Sounders when I was 20 years old [in 2003]. I love that city, and I think they've done wonders. And if you're asking me if I'm excited to play against a coach who once told me I should try to pick a different profession ...."

Wait, what? Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said what to you when he was your coach with the L.A. Galaxy in the early 2000s?

"At an end-of-season meeting he told me soccer wasn't in the cards for me as a career," said Gómez, who was never a star in MLS but went on to have a mini-Jeremy Lin experience in Mexico, joining Puebla as a free agent in 2010 and scoring 10 goals in 15 games, winning a share of the Mexican league's golden boot.

Intrigued, I asked Schmid about his recollection of the story.

"If it motivates him, great," Schmid said with a half-smile. "I don't ever remember saying that to him, and usually if I say that to somebody I'll remember. I did say you're making a big mistake, because we wanted to bring him back to the Galaxy, but it was on a developmental contract, which wasn't big. The coach wanted to bring him back to [lower-division] San Diego for around $40,000, and I said you're making a big mistake playing for $40,000 in that division because you're not going to develop."

"Maybe I said you might as well look for another profession if that's where you're going to go."

Whatever exactly might have been said between the two, Schmid says he respects what Gómez has achieved in Mexico. "There were a lot of teams in MLS that didn't see him financially at a level that he's at now," Schmid says. "And in fairness to him, he did well by going to Mexico and he's getting much better earnings than he would have had in MLS."

There's a bit more buzz building this year about the CONCACAF Champions League, in which three MLS teams have reached the final eight: Seattle, Los Angeles and Toronto (the latter two of which meet each other in another quarterfinal). The Galaxy's stellar offseason has some pundits thinking L.A. can win it all and become the first MLS team to play in the FIFA Club World Cup, which takes places in Japan in December.

But Santos will have something to say about that. The Torreón-based club, which is 4-1-1 in the Mexican league, will get to play the winner of L.A.-Toronto if it can get past Seattle in the quarters. So those of us on the U.S. side may see Santos a lot in the next couple months. There are some familiar faces, including goalkeeper Oswaldo Sánchez, and Gómez is competing for playing time on a front line that includes Oribe Peralta, Carlos Quintero and Christian Suárez.

So far Gómez has had three appearances as a sub, but Champions League might provide the chance for more time on the field. "It's about getting that opportunity now and running with it," says Gómez, who appeared in three World Cup games for the U.S. in 2010. "That's pretty much been my career, so I'm hoping to do the same here."

It should make for some compelling theater to kick off March.

Let's open the Mailbag ...

Will the 4-0 dismantling of Arsenal at the San Siro be enough for Robin van Persie to leave in the summer?

-- Carter Phillips, Charleston, W. Va.

Well, it certainly doesn't help matters. If Van Persie ever wanted a reminder that Arsenal's midfield struggles to get him the ball against elite opposition, he got one in Milan on Wednesday. The only Arsenal teammate who was able to give Van Persie a good pass was Thierry Henry (and it was a glorious pass, by the way), but Henry won't even be around after this month. With the remarkable season Van Persie is having, his ability to avoid injuries of late (knock on wood) and the relative paucity of support he's getting from Arsenal, I would think it's a no-brainer that he should leave the Emirates. That's what I would do if I were him. One thing is clear: If Arsenal wants to convince Van Persie to stay, Stan Kroenke will have to open his pursestrings, not just for RVP but for the kind of teammates that might make his star think he could actually win a Premier League title there.

Do you see Sporting KC making another run for the MLS Cup for the 2012 season? Can they beat LA or Houston when it comes down to wire? Do you think having Teal Bunbury, CJ Sapong and Graham Zusi show up at the USMNT camp be a factor in SKC's play this year?

-- @KatherineRupp

Kansas City was the best team in the East during the '11 regular season, and I see no reason why this young and rising team shouldn't be even better in 2012. For starters, there's no debilitating 10-game road schedule to start the season. But I also like the addition of Bobby Convey, who may play up front on the left in KC's 4-3-3, and I think Zusi and Bunbury could have breakout seasons. Houston and New York should be the other teams to beat in the East, but Houston has its own road swing to start the season, and New York is New York: the best team in the conference on paper, but hardly inspiring confidence from a chemistry perspective.

All the talk about Spurs manager Harry Redknapp potentially replacing Fabio Capello as the English national team manager makes me wonder just how hard it would be for him (or for anyone, for that matter), to manage both a club team and a national team at the same time. I realize the difficulty this would have presented years ago but it seems to me that modern technology makes scouting players and teams much easier than it used to be, and travel could be minimized if the club team plays in the country that the manager represents. While it's not exactly the same sport, basketball coaches like Mike Krzyzewski (USA), John Calipari (Dominican Republic), and Rick Pitino (Puerto Rico, albeit briefly) have been able to wear both hats. Realistically, how difficult would it be to do successfully?

-- Andy Buchanan, New York City

Great question. I think it would be easier to do if the national team position wasn't a terribly high-profile one, but it would awfully hard for an England manager to double up with a Premier League job. For one thing, the media responsibilities alone would be gigantic, as would the job of staying on top of all the players in your national-team pool. Keep in mind, Coach K also has a good idea of exactly who his players are going to be for the U.S. national team, and the team doesn't get together nearly as often as a soccer national team does. Aside from Guus Hiddink with Chelsea and Russia in 2009, do any readers out there know of any precedents in which a club coach doubled up as a national team coach?

This is something I've always wondered, and I don't consider myself a novice soccer fan in any way: How do you know what formation a team is playing? Sometimes, it's difficult to make what out formation a team is playing from watching a match on TV (even if the announcers say so before kickoff).

-- Rashad Jorden, Burlington, N.J.

You're right: sometimes it's not easy to decipher what sort of formation a team is using, especially when you're watching on TV. (And truth be told, a lot of U.S. soccer broadcasts, especially local MLS ones, don't get the formations and positions right when they show them before the game.) One thing I've learned to do is trust my own eyes: Sometimes a coach will want you to think he's using a 4-3-3 (attacking soccer! great!) when in fact it's a more defensive-minded 4-5-1. I'll be honest: Analyzing soccer tactics was not my strong suit when I started covering this sport. I just didn't have the background that goes back to being a kid watching the sport and breaking things down that way. But I've tried to make up for it in recent years, and there are some good books to help, such as Jonathan Wilson's Inverting the Pyramid.

Deciphering a formation is easier to do when you're in the stadium, but it's possible to get an idea off the television, particularly if it's a good production that keeps the camera angle wide instead of using dopey close-ups during game action. (I'm looking at you, CONCACAF feed producers.) Widescreen HD broadcasts have helped, and so has improved technology like heat maps. When it comes down to it, though, formations are sometimes in the eye of the beholder. I've seen respected analysts disagree on exactly what they're seeing, and that disagreement is often part of the fun when talking about the sport.

See you next week!

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