MUNDELEIN — There are moments during a game that can encapsulate an athlete’s on-field personality and provide a window into his genetic makeup.
One such moment occurred when Mundelein was playing Carmel on Sept. 3. Leading 4-1 in the second half, the Mustangs counter-attacked after a save. Center back Eric Morales kicked the ball upfield. Midfielder Armando Gomez gathered the ball at his feet just past the midfield line. He dribbled past a defender, then going to his right, made a run into the goalie box. The attack did not result in a goal — a Carmel defender was able to squirt the ball loose — but the sequence required strength, tenacity and fearlessness. Like a soccer-playing version of a bull rider.
Gomez understands this analogy. His father, Felipe, was an actual bull rider.
“He came over (to the United States) when he was 16 (to ride),” Gomez said. “He’d find different places to ride all over the country. The West Coast, Los Angeles.”
Felipe Gomez retired from riding bulls when Armando was 4 to work a day job in construction.
“He didn’t want to put himself in danger,” Armando Gomez said.
Around that time Armando Gomez took up soccer. Playing in youth leagues around Libertyville and Mundelein, he developed a style merging a natural aggression with one more controlled, more tactical.
“He is technically gifted and reads the game very well,” coach Ernie Billittier said. “His energy on the field is contagious and when he is at his best, he forces the rest of our team to elevate their game.”
There is no more important relationship on a soccer team than that of the two centers: defender and midfielder. Both positions act as on-field organizers who set the pace, retain possession and distribute the ball to forwards.
Mundelein has such a relationship this season between Morales and Gomez. Possessing good size — 5-foot-10, 160 pounds — Morales is equally as physical as Gomez, providing a sturdy presence on balls in the air.
Morales said having a teammate like Gomez provides both leeway and leverage.
“No matter where you put him he’s a dangerous player,” Morales said. “It makes my job easier when we have someone I can trust. I know he’s going to get every ball I play.”
Just as Felipe Gomez once crisscrossed the country riding bulls, his son now chases down passes and scoring opportunities over a soccer field. When doing so, Armando Gomez honors what he most respects about his father’s now-retired passion.
“For him to be doing that, he was really brave,” Armando Gomez said. “When I play, I want to be seen as focused and playing hard, prepared for anything.”