12-yards out, 900 miles from home

Morrison Stadium, 2011

In honor of Creighton’s home opener Sunday night against Drexel (7 pm), here’s a repost of a story I did last year on Creighton midfielder Jose Gomez. Originally published in El Perico, this is, I believe, it’s debut in English.

Jose Gomez had been pounding the goalkeeper with shots all night long. Creighton’s sophomore midfielder from Santa Ana, Calif. had fired off seven shots, putting four of them on goal but had yet to score. Surely, with one shot left from the penalty spot, this one would find the net.

Creighton was only here due to the cruelest of bounces. The Bluejays had dominated seventh-ranked SMU on their home field in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, outshooting SMU 27-14 and holding a 2-1 lead in the final minute of the game.  Then SMU’s Arthur Ivo launched a desperation kick from 30-yards out that deflected off a Creighton defender and into the goal with 15 seconds left.

Two scoreless overtime periods later and Gomez was up. He had one more chance to beat SMU keeper Craig Hill. Standing on the field on the night of Nov. 21 in Dallas he was 12 yards out from goal and about 900 miles away from where his soccer journey began in Mexico City.

***

At times during his first year in Omaha, Gomez felt much further away from home than that. Born in Mexico, he moved with his mother and father to California at age six. After an all-star career at Century High School, Gomez accepted a scholarship offer to Cal State Fullerton, appearing in 15 games for the Titans and leading the team in assists.

Despite the early success, Gomez says his style of play wasn’t a great fit at Fullerton. That’s when old club teammate and current Creighton sophomore, Dion Acoff, told him about Bluejay soccer. One trip to campus and one look at Morrison Stadium and Gomez was sold.

“I didn’t know anything about Omaha or what to expect,” he says. “People told me there were farms and that was about it. But from the first day I got here everyone was friendly and they make you feel comfortable. It helps you out when you’re alone.”

It didn’t take long for Gomez to fit in on the field. The rabbit-quick midfielder seems custom built for Coach Jamie Clark’s furious style of play. The opportunity to play real attacking soccer was one of the primary reasons Gomez says he chose Creighton.

“All throughout college soccer all they do is play kick ball– play it up to the forwards, get a 50-50 ball and hope to score,” he says. “When I was at Fullerton it didn’t feel right but at Creighton I get more of the ball. My job is to pass the ball or try to score, and I think I did pretty well.”

The numbers more than back that statement up. In 19 games for Creighton this season Gomez was second on the team in total points, goals and assists. He was one of five Bluejays to make the Missouri Valley Conference all-conference first team and, with Creighton’s season hanging in the balance, the second man up behind MVC player of the year Ethan Finlay to take a penalty kick in the Jays final game of the season.

***

And that’s about the only part of Gomez’s first season that didn’t go according to script. He drove his last shot of the season low and hard to the right hand corner but Hill guessed right, getting the save and giving SMU the final margin of victory in a 5-3 shootout win.

One deflected goal that led to one coin-flip of a stop is a tough way to go out, but Gomez says getting that tournament experience should pay dividends next year when the Jays return all but three seniors from last season’s squad.

For now, Gomez says his focus is squarely on getting ready for next year but he wouldn’t be a young soccer player if he didn’t dream of international glory. Since his father began taking him out as a toddler in Mexico City to play soccer the two have talked about dreams of playing for the national team. But for someone with dual citizenship that presents a tough choice: Mexico or USA?

“It’s hard because I came in when I was six years old and have spent most of my life in America,” Gomez says. “But I’m from Mexico and it’s just that love you have for your country.”

While El Tri may be his first choice and rooting interest in international play, Gomez said he wouldn’t turn down the U.S. Soccer Federation if they came calling.

For now, Creighton soccer fans and Coach Clark can simply be happy he’ll be in Omaha for two more years.

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