When the US Men’s National Team squared off against Panama in a recent friendly, the eyes of many Union fans were focused on Panama’s captain, Gabriel Gómez.
Employed in a central defensive midfield role, Gómez was impressive with his tackling, distribution, and positional awareness. Some observers noted that the imposing 27-year-old was the best player on the field – for either team.
Signed on December 21, Gómez joins a crowded Philadelphia midfield also featuring defensive midfielders Brian Carroll and Amobi Okugo. With the addition of Gómez – who Union sporting director Diego Gutierrez says has the potential to be a star in MLS – the Union have one of the most talented pools of holding midfielders in the league.
Gómez is also known for his quality moving forward into the attack, providing the Union with lineup flexibility.
With so many young players on the roster, Gómez believes he can supplement the veteran leadership of Carroll, captain Danny Califf, and recently signed defender Chris Albright.
“I am a player with a great attitude that always gives everything on the field for the team,” Gómez told philadelphiaunion.com through a translator. “I came to share my experience, to help younger players, and to work collectively with the team to achieve the goal we have set for 2012.”
While it remains to be seen how the rotation will shake out, the technical staff has always stressed the value of internal competition. Other midfielders listed on the roster include Michael Farfan, Gabriel Farfan, Roger Torres, Keon Daniel, Freddy Adu, Zach Pfeffer, Jimmy McLaughin, Greg Jordan and Nizar Khalfan.
Carroll, for one, believes the depth will benefit the club.
“I think the quality is good and will continue to get better with the development of Amobi, who's done well each and every year,” Carroll said during the first week of preseason. “And the addition of Gabriel Gómez – who I didn’t know much about previously but after watching the first few days of practice looks comfortable – should be great for the team.”
Despite only being 27 years old, Gómez has seen his fair share of the global soccer landscape first-hand. After jumping between Colombia and Panama at the beginning of his career, “El Gavilan” made a move to Europe in 2007, signing with Portuguese side C.F. Os Belenenses. Three years and 71 appearances later, Gómez transferred to Ermis Aradippou of the Cypriot first division, before featuring for Colombian side La Equidad and most recently Mexican side Indios.
In Philadelphia, Gómez hopes to find both success and stability.
“I signed for a year with options through 2015, so I’ll go this year and try to show well, please the team, the management and the fans, and achieve the collective objectives of the team,” Gómez told MLSsoccer.com in January.
As for why he chose the Union as his landing spot, Gómez was sold on the club’s structure and philosophy.
“Everything involving Philadelphia (attracted me to sign),” he said. “The team’s organization, its young players with class, their mentality and their idea of the game.”
In Gómez, the Union saw a big-game player who fit the club’s culture.
“He’s a guy who played in Europe, in Mexico, in a lot of important games,” said Gutierrez. “We expect him to bring more of the same. He's a family guy. We know he's going to fit in nicely.”
Thus far in preseason, Gómez has done just that. According to manager Peter Nowak, speaking on a media conference call Tuesday, “Gabriel Gómez is doing very good."
The true test, however, will begin March 12 when the Union kick off season three.
A proven commodity in his home country, Gómez now hopes to excel in MLS, a league he believes is on the upswing and will continue to be a destination for top Panamanian talent.
“Soccer here is more organized and professional,” Gómez explained when asked about his impressions of MLS. “Economically, it is much better. As a Panamanian player, I have no doubts about the quality of the athletes back in Panama. Now I’ve come here to the United States and I hope I can open the door to many other players by showing my talent and by setting a good example.
“From what I’ve seen, the league is very organized, it is growing every year, and it is bringing important players that give more recognition to the league. I hope I can be a benefit for the team; I hope I can help them. I’m giving my best and I’ll always be willing to work hard.”
Working hard is half the battle. The other half?
“I'm a player that likes to win and that’s why I came,” Gómez said.