Photo: Paul Rudderow
Editor’s note: At the end of the first two Philadelphia Union seasons, we posted a series of end of the season reviews of every Union player. Over the next several weeks PSP continues with a review of the 2012 season.
On paper, the Union filled their needs going into 2012.
In Porfirio Lopez, they had their replacement left back. In Lionard Pajoy, they had their target forward. In Josue Martinez, they had their speedy finisher.
And in Gabriel Gomez, they had their midfield general.
Looking back on 2012, Lopez was found wanting (in a big way), Pajoy left town after failing to play into John Hackworth’s system, and Martinez failed to impress in limited opportunities. Despite a steep decline in form late in the campaign, Gomez must be regarded as the most successful of the Union’s four major signings.
Unfortunately, Gomez relative success speaks more to the Union’s consistent ineptitude than to the Panamanian midfielder’s quality. By season’s end, he had fallen behind Chivas USA cast-off Michael Lahoud and looked disinterested and even unfit over the final months of the season, completing the full 90 minutes only twice after April.
In the end, the Union’s priciest new signing failed to create enough goals, one of the chief reasons for bringing him here, ending the 2012 campaign without registering a single assist.
Though it came in the midst of his late season sliding form, Gomez’s match-winning blast on October 3 in Chicago was the high point of his season. Running onto Jack McInerney’s knockdown header, Gomez reminded everyone at Toyota Park and watching across the country of his ball-striking prowess, taking his first time chance beautifully. Before Sean Johnson could so much as react, the ball was past him, and the Union took a rare two-goal road lead that they held for the win.
Becoming a peripheral player under John Hackworth. Whether it was a 4–3–3 or a 4–5–1, the new Union boss demanded a lot of any man who laced up his boots in the center of the Union midfield. For the slow, plodding Gomez, the challenge was too great, and he consistently looked off the pace in a more wide open formation.
When he is feeling it, Gomez possesses the quality to be an elite ball-striker in MLS. His early season free kicks were always dangerous, before fading as the year wore on. Additionally, he has the vision and technique of a deep-lying playmaker. Though he looks too frequently for the ball over the top, Gomez sees the entire field, whether that means sliding the ball through a defense or launching a full field switch to a streaking winger.
Ultimately, Gomez’s lack of pace and agility were his undoing with the Union. Given his ability to see the field, Gomez could have worked to become a playmaker in the mold of Carlos Valderamma, moving the ball quickly off of his feet despite running very little himself. MLS often places too much focus on hustle and running, showering praise on players with a higher work rate above those with the ability to control a game, keep possession and dictate the tempo. Given his skill set, Gomez should have fallen into the latter category, but his attempts to show off his hard work generally made him look slow and clumsy through the midfield.
He ran at defenders without the ability to beat them and committed too many fouls, simply barging through players. And he often tried to do too much with the ball, favoring keeping the ball at his feet or launching low-percentage hoofs forward.
Strength, which should have been one his great assets given his size, became a negative part of his game as the slow-moving Gomez’s shoving, grasping and clattering of opposition players came to look at best crude, at worst cynical and violent.
Having been acquired for his leadership skills, Gomez’s constant referee-badgering, arm-flailing and sulking hardly made him the role model the Union brass would have expected from a player who has worn the captain’s armband for his country.
Gomez has likely seen his last minutes for the Union, admitting that,
“I do not know about my future with this team, but I do not think I will continue. I have option years [in my contract] but I do not know if the team will take them. I am waiting for a meeting [with the coaching staff] this week to see what will happen in my future.”
In the end, Gomez’s lack of production—only a single goal since July and no assists over the entire season (even Roger Torres had two assists despite playing 181 minutes, compared to Gomez’s 1578)—makes it hard to imagine that the Union would elect to pick up his option on 2013. What remains to be seen however, is if another MLS side believes that Gomez might better fit their system, thus offering the Union something in return. For a front office keen to rebuild the trust they once held with the fans, bringing player(s) back for the Panamanian midfielder would go a long way to proving that Gomez’s signing was not yet another complete failure on the part of the former administration.
Stat chart legend:
POS: Position; GP: Games Played; GS: Games Started; MINS: Minutes; PA: Passes Attempted; PC: Passes Completed; P%: Passing Accuracy Percentage; G: Goals; A: Assists; SOG: Shots on Goal; SOG/S%: Percentage of Shots that are on Goal; G/SOG%: Percentage of Shots on Goal Converted; SC%: Scoring Percentage; G/90min: Goals per 90 minutes; Hm G: Home Goals; Rd G: Road Goals; FC: Fouls Committed; FS: Fouls Suffered; YC: Yellow Cards; RC: Red Cards