Herculez Gomez: U.S. has lost identity but talent, Arena can take it to Russia
Following a 17-year playing career, during which he won championships in MLS and Liga MX and played 24 times for the United States, including at the 2010 World Cup, Herculez Gomez is embarking upon a new occupation: studio analyst for ESPN.
Ahead of covering the U.S.' friendly vs. Serbia (Sunday, 4 p.m. ET; ESPN2/WatchESPN), Gomez discussed the national team with ESPN FC.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
ESPN FC: What do you think about the state of the U.S. team and Bruce Arena?
HG: I guess I'm with the masses on this one. It's the right move because he knows how to get us out of the Hex. Is it a progressive move? Is it a sexy move? Is it the move that's going to take U.S. soccer to the next level with play? I don't think people can argue that right now. Nobody is going to argue that. But I believe it's a necessary move that we have to make. He understands the region, he understands MLS and the American player. I think he can get the team playing as a cohesive unit, which is not something we've seen all the time in the last half decade with the U.S. men's national team. I think a lot of the quick fixes we need, he can supply. I'm for it.
ESPN FC: What are some of those quick fixes?
HG: I think this is a team that's lost its identity. I don't think you can clearly state a style of play with the U.S. men's national team at the moment. I think a lot of things that the American player has -- that belief, that spirit, that discipline, that tenacity -- we've lost over the years. We've lost that identity. Those players are still there. I think this is a very talented group. I heard Landon Donovan's comments about this being the most talented group all time for the U.S. men's national team. Alexi Lalas has been saying that for years, and I've always agreed.
You've got more resources at your disposal. The average American player is better now than they've ever been. This pool is the deepest it's ever been. Now you must not confuse results with talent. But the talent is there. We've had at our disposal a vast array of players that can be put together to create a very strong team. It's about getting those players to play together and have that belief in what they're playing for.
ESPN FC: Tim Howard recently made comments about some U.S. players not having the passion of others; do you agree with that?
HG: Tim will have his own reasons for making those statements. Only he knows what he really meant. I've been on that side where you say something and it comes out completely not the way that you wanted it to come out. I think Jermaine Jones is 100 percent on the money when he says you have to be very careful when you talk about these things. He says: "It's dangerous" and it is dangerous because being an American is a feeling. For many Americans this is a privilege. Many people in this great country don't think the way you do. Whether right or wrong, there are many different viewpoints, and that's what makes America great. It's that freedom of speech.
But we're talking about passion and commitment. I believe when you're representing your country that should be first and foremost. I don't think you should separate a dual national or call him out for that passion or commitment. It should be equal on all parts. All players when they put on that jersey should have that passion and commitment. I think once you put that jersey on, there should be no more talk about dual nationals. You're American. This was a country that was built on immigrants. So for us to even be having a discussion about dual nationals is silly.
ESPN FC: Do you get a sense this team is divided, that there's a little bit of a schism going on here?
HG: Tim's comments would suggest so, and he has been in the midst of everything, so you would have to take those comments into consideration. I'm a big fan of Tim's and he will have his reasons for why he said what he said, but you can't question somebody's commitment to the team if you've just come off a year's sabbatical (Howard opted not to play for the U.S. after the 2014 World Cup) . It seems like double standards for me. But he will have his reasons for saying what he said.
We have this talk about dual nationals and commitment from people who, throughout their tenure with the national team, have had commitment issues. Landon made some comments about commitment but Landon left the team at time when it was most in need and went to Cambodia to find himself, which is fair enough to him. But it definitely puts you in a precarious position if you're talking about commitment.
ESPN FC: When you see someone not playing with the passion that you think is necessary, given all the time that you've been a pro, whose responsibility is it to call guys out on that? Is it the coach? Is it the senior leadership?
HG: A combination of all of the above. I think as a coach, you can only reach so many players. Listen, this isn't a youth national team. These aren't kids. They're professionals. They do this for a living. But the reality is that not everybody responds the same way. You have to find ways to get to certain players. Whether it's the coach, the captain, the leader of the backline, the leader in the midfield, a veteran forward, whatever it is, you have to find ways to reach players.
But the reality is not everyone responds the same way. Some people confuse lack of passion because some guys go in their shell. They don't react. To me that's not lack of passion. That's just somebody being timid, somebody not understanding maybe the functions or the tactics being asked of them. Because I'm sure if you just consider passion and caring for the team as just running around like a madman, there are plenty of people in this country who can fulfill that role. But this game is much more than just running, much more than heart or just having that fire. It's a game full of constant running motion, of tactics, of reaction, of execution. You can't just equate running hard and running through walls with having passion. That's not what the game is all about.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.