Ahead of the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinals of the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs on Thursday (7:30 p.m. PT; FS1, FOX Deportes, KIRO Radio 97.3 FM, El Rey 1360 AM) between the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps, SoundersFC.com caught up with Herculez Gomez. The former Sounders forward, who won MLS Cup with Seattle last season, played professionally for 15 seasons in MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX. He retired after last season and currently works as an ESPN broadcast analyst. (NOTE: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)
How different or similar is this Sounders team to the one you were a part of last year?
It’s completely different. This current team didn’t have to deal with the same adversity that the Sounders team I was a part of had to deal with. That can be a good and bad thing. It’s good because you don’t have to carry that baggage with you. You proved you were a better team throughout the regular season, so that should give you some confidence.
But at the other end of that, that adversity you go through as a team, those bonding moments as a team, those are moments that if you can come out the other side, you’re better for it. I don’t know how many moments this Seattle team has had this season, but definitely that wave of momentum that we went through last year, the way everything happened, the “us versus them” mentality, it carried us through toward the end of the season and through the playoffs. You see how dangerous a team with momentum and belief can be in the playoffs.
What did you learn from the first leg?
I think the Sounders played the way they wanted to and got the result they wanted. Vancouver, for being a home team, you have to press the issue. It doesn’t matter what you think of the two-legged home-and-away, road-goal playoff system, if you’re the home team, there has to be an onus on you to go out there and at least try to get a result. Seattle was under no pressure or obligation to go out there and be the one to press the issue. Vancouver had to be the one to create opportunities and have possession on the ball and be the one to dictate the pace of the game.
Seattle, give them credit, what they wanted to achieve on paper, they did. It showed me that Head Coach Brian Schmetzer gets what the playoffs are about. Schmetzer gets how to frustrate and disrupt other teams like we did last season. Carl Robinson is a good coach, he’s done great things with the Vancouver Whitecaps, but this is a team that hasn’t been there, hasn’t done that, and that was on display in the first leg.
If you’re Brian Schmetzer, what’s your game plan for Thursday evening?
You can’t leave Vancouver hanging around, you have to go for the jugular. This is a team that’s proven they’re a very good road team in the West. If Yordy Reyna is on the field, or Cristian Techera or Nicolás Mezquida or Fredy Montero, you can’t for one second think that what you did in the first leg is going to carry you forward enough for you to be going through on a 1-0 win. You can’t leave this team hanging around especially with how dangerous they are on set pieces. This team can hurt you in so many different ways. Say what you want about how unconvincing they were in the first leg, this Vancouver team is sneaky good.
How much will Clint Dempsey’s presence influence the match?
Clint is a guy who doesn’t need a whole lot to make something happen. In between the lines, in tight spaces, where it’s very difficult to operate or try to get anything going forward, he can have one of those flashes of individual brilliance that can be the difference for an assist or a goal. Those are the players who are special players. He’s a difference maker.
What are players’ mindsets or mentalities heading into a win-or-go-home match?
There are two types of players. There are players who know what this is about and the onus is on them. They want that pressure, they want that moment, they want to try things. And then there’s the type of player who doesn’t want to make a mistake. Throughout the playoffs, you get to see which players are which. If you have enough of those first players, you’re going to win.
The mindset should be for any player should be, I’ve gotten this far with what I’ve been doing and I need to continue doing it, not change my ways, not play not to make a mistake. That should be the mindset. You don’t change because you’re scared or you’re afraid.