Friday September 27th, 2013

Herculez Gomez has not played for the U.S. since a knee injury forced him out of the Gold Cup in July. (AP) Herculez Gomez has not played for the U.S. since a knee injury forced him out of the Gold Cup in July. (AP)

Herculez Gomez unleashed 10 weeks of idle frustration on poor C.D. Victoria Thursday night, netting a 25-minute hat trick in his delayed debut for Club Tijuana.

Gomez entered the CONCACAF Champions League match at the start of the second half, replacing U.S. teammate Joe Corona, and made the most of his first action since undergoing knee surgery in early August.

Tijuana (3-0-1) defeated the visiting Hondurans, 6-0, at the Estadio Caliente and sealed its inevitable spot in next year’s CCL quarterfinals.

Gomez scored his first goal for his new club after just 15 minutes. The knee held up as he ran under a long pass from midfielder Cristián Pellerano, accelerated into the penalty area and powered a 10-yard shot through the Victoria goalkeeper.

His second goal, in the 68th, was an easier finish into an open net. The third came in the 85th on a breakaway that Gomez punctuated with a smart chip.

U.S. under-18 international Paul Arriola, from California, struck for Tijuana in the first half. American defender Greg Garza started and went the full 90.

Despite the layoff, Gomez looked comfortable. It probably was the right night to introduce him. He’s made the CCL his personal playground in the past. Gomez scored six goals in the knockout stage of the 2011-12 edition for Santos Laguna (all against MLS clubs) and then three more in 2012-13. Santos won the silver medal in both tournaments. Gomez left Santos to sign with Xolos in early June but had to wait until Thursday to make his mark. He did so emphatically.

Gomez, 31, was a constant in U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s lineup for about a year and appeared to be a shoo-in for a spot on the World Cup roster. But the forward missed out on the June World Cup qualifiers with knee trouble and then had difficulty during the group stage of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Surgery became the smartest option.

Meantime, the competition for U.S. minutes has intensified. Eddie Johnson now is firmly established, Landon Donovan is back and apparently better than ever and newcomer Aron Johannsson is on fire in the Netherlands -- he had his own hat trick for AZ Alkmaar on Wednesday.

Speaking to this month, Gomez embraced the challenge.

“I understand how difficult it is to make the World Cup because I was that guy who came in without a single [qualifier] under my belt and ended up playing at the [2010] World Cup. I’ve been on both sides of that spectrum and I understand right now that getting the job is the easy part. Keeping the job is the harder part,” he said.

“The great thing is, I’m at a point where I still have that hunger. I don’t need a vacation and if I don’t get that benefit of the doubt, it keeps me alive inside and pushes me to work harder.”

Tijuana is 3-3-4 in the Liga MX and will travel to Puebla, Gomez’s first Mexican club, on Sunday.

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