In a World Cup year, seemingly anything can happen.
Injuries can wreak havoc on a coachs plans, or an out-of-the-picture player can suddenly play at a level that cannot be ignored, grab the attention and force the coach's hand.
The U.S. national team has both scenarios in play. Injuries are threatening to keep some certain first-choice players off the team altogether, but a knight in shining baby-blue-and-white armor is waiting in the wings.
And waiting he will likely remain.
Herculez Gomez is tearing apart the Mexican Primera Division this season. Through 13 weeks of the Bicentenario 2010 season, Gomez is second overall in goals scored. The only player ahead of him is Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, now property of Manchester United. Since Hernandez is off with the Mexican national team and wont return to Chivas any more, Gomez could lead the league in scoring.
In other words, he could become the first American ever to lead the Mexican Primera Division in goals. Surely, that would be good enough for a call to the United States national team. However, such is not the case.
"I havent had any contact with anybody from the national team," Gomez said by phone earlier this week. "If I keep working hard and help my club, hopefully I could help my country."
In many ways, Gomez picked a bad year to have a good year. In 2007, he was still in the national team picture, although in a bit of a haphazard way. Gomez played for the U.S. in Copa America as Bob Bradley pieced together a makeshift squad to send to South America. Top U.S. players competed in the Gold Cup, played in June of that year, and a few carryovers plus MLS players filled out the Copa America roster.
Gomez played against Argentina and Colombia in that ill-fated tournament and was never to be heard from again.
Or so he thought.
"Three months ago we werent having this discussion," Gomez said.
True enough. With Colorado and Kansas City, Gomez was not much of an offensive force. He scored a total of three goals between 2007-09 with the two MLS clubs. Such paltry offensive output kept him out of the national team picture and did not allow him to participate in any World Cup qualifiers or friendlies.
And it may have cost him a chance at the World Cup.
Other players were called into the national team earlier this year in hopes of shoring up the offensive picture. Robbie Findley, Robbie Rogers and Jeff Cunningham saw playing time against both Honduras and El Salvador. Findley even got on the field against the Netherlands.
Forwards Clint Dempsey, Charlie Davies and now Brian Ching find themselves in various stages of injury and recovery. Dempsey hurt his knee, recovered but now is battling a thigh injury. Davies seemed like a lost cause due to a fatal car crash in October but returned to training with Sochaux, although his World Cup chances are seemingly still up in the air. And Ching hurt his hamstring in an MLS match against Real Salt Lake some 10 days ago, and is not expected back for 4-6 weeks.
Gomez, meanwhile, is filling the nets for Puebla. The ex-L.A. Galaxy standout has scored in seven of his last eight games. Perhaps more astonishing is his lack of starts. He has amassed his goalscoring totals with only four starts under his belt. Hes seen action in every league game, but even still has played just 603 minutes.
His output thus is one goal every 75 minutes. Such a scoring touch could come in handy in a tight match against Slovenia or Algeria in June.
"I'm not sure why I'm not starting but it doesn't change my mentality," Gomez said. "Whether it's 10 minutes or 90 minutes I've got to get in there and I've got to put my stamp on the game and do something, make a case for myself to start."
Gomez enjoyed his best days in MLS in 2005 when he helped the Galaxy win the double. His 18 goals were crucial for both the Galaxys U.S. Open Cup and MLS campaigns, and he seemed poised for league stardom.
Whats going on now in Puebla has surpassed that, he said.
"It's different because I think back then I was really young and naive," he said. "I was really foolish in the way that I thought. I almost thought things would continue to happen. I was in a very good place. Over the years you learn a lot more."
The timing of his breakout Mexican league campaign, though, may not seem like the best. Qualifying is long over. The auditions seemingly ended on March in Amsterdam, and now the only thing left is to pray for no more injuries and the U.S. roster will be set at some point in the near future. All Gomez needs is a rejection letter thanking him for his interest in the World Cup.
Does Gomez think his season has been a bit of bad timing?
"At the beginning I did but now I don't. I think it's great timing now," he said. "What if I had had this year last year and then cooled off or something. Then I wouldn't even be in the picture. Now all of the sudden in the picture when nobody ever thought I would be."
Even if Gomez does not find his way to South Africa, he's accomplished a great deal in a short amount of time. Gomez is a fan favorite in Puebla and locals let him know out in public that they support him and hope he becomes el campeon goleador, the scoring champion.
Whatever happens this summer and beyond, Gomez is not about to find any dissatisfaction with his time in Puebla.
"I've learned over the years that things like this can't be taken for granted," Gomez said. "Whether it's 30 days before the World Cup or 30 months, I'm going to take it, I'm going to keep doing my best and hopefully good things will happen."