Midfielder Christian Gomez Getting More Comfortable in His Return to D.C. United
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
SEATTLE, June 16 -- Christian Gómez's free kick ascended over the defensive wall, swerved beyond the goalkeeper's reach and settled into the upper right side of the net, and for a moment late in the first half Saturday, RFK Stadium looked and sounded like 2006 again.
The Argentine midfielder's first goal at home since he was reacquired by D.C. United -- a 23-yard, go-ahead strike in a 2-1 victory over Chicago -- stirred memories of his MVP campaign three years ago, of his influential part in the 2004 MLS championship run and of his fierce yet elegant manner over three-plus years in Washington.
On his second tour with United after a forgettable 2008 season in Denver, Gómez is emerging from an early adjustment period and helping supervise the club's rise to first place in the Eastern Conference.
With team captain Jaime Moreno sidelined with a hamstring injury, United (5-2-7) is likely to lean on Gómez's experience and leadership in road matches against the Seattle Sounders (5-3-5) on Wednesday night at Qwest Field and the Colorado Rapids (4-2-5) on Saturday.
"He had a pretty big influence the other night, not only the plays he made, but you can hear him send messages about when to keep the ball," United Coach Tom Soehn said. "He's taking on a bigger role. It's a natural progression for veterans; they've been through it and it's important they take on those qualities."
At 34, Gómez no longer has the endurance to dictate a game over a full 90 minutes. Injuries and fitness issues have limited his availability and, with United boasting its deepest roster in years, Soehn has rotated the lineup regularly and been careful not to overextend him.
In the past six outings, Gómez played two entire games, was a second-half substitute twice, sat out once and exited the Chicago match in the 85th minute only because Soehn needed defensive reinforcement. In the U.S. Open Cup, Gómez was not in uniform for one game and played just half of the other. During this stretch of three games in eight days, Gómez seems unlikely to start against both Seattle and Colorado.
Although he was gone for only a year and reunited with veterans such as Moreno, Luciano Emilio and Ben Olsen, Gómez did not enjoy a seamless transition. Many others were new to the team, including rookie starters Rodney Wallace and Chris Pontius, and acclimation took time.
"At the beginning of the season, it was more about new teammates who didn't really know me very well and hesitating to pass the ball if I had someone marking me," said Gómez, whose return to United was prompted by the departure of countryman Marcelo Gallardo over the winter. "Now, they trust me more with the ball. I'm feeling like I am in the rhythm of the game. I am getting more comfortable and getting more touches on the ball."
Pontius, for one, has benefited from Gómez's expertise.
"You give him the ball and you keep your run going. Even though he's not looking at you, he still knows you are there and eventually he will find you," Pontius said. "We just have to get him the ball in the right spot."
Gómez enjoyed the spot of the free kick in the 41st minute Saturday -- just beyond the penalty area, a few strides off center. Just like so many goalkeepers confronting a Gómez set piece between 2004 and '07, Chicago's Jon Busch had no chance. It was Gómez's first goal since converting a penalty kick in the season opener at Los Angeles nearly three months ago.
"As soon as we got the call, I knew we were going to score because that's where Christian wants it," midfielder-forward Santino Quaranta said. "He just did his thing."
United Notes: Wednesday's game will mark United's first visit to Seattle since a 1-1 exhibition tie with European titan Real Madrid almost three years ago. United and Real will meet again Aug. 9 at FedEx Field in Landover. . . .
For single-game road trips, MLS teams usually travel with 18 players, but because United will fly directly to Denver from here, Soehn brought two additional players, including Olsen, who has been sidelined for a month with a hamstring injury. "I'm a little rusty and not up to speed yet, but it's getting there," he said.