By Michael Lewis
Neither Santos Laguna nor striker Herculez Gomez need much motivation in this year's CONCACAF Champions League.
After the Mexican club reached the final and lost to two-time champion Monterrey in May, the Mexican side wants another chance at the confederation championship.
"It's absolutely something that is the driving force," Gomez said. "You get a taste that you want more. It was bittersweet for a lot of us to come that far. We wanted to do so well. We want to make amends, a little redemption."
The 30-year-old Gomez is now playing for his fourth different team in Mexico, having joined Santos in December. He scored six goals in four games in the knockout rounds of the CCL to get the side to finals against Monterrey, and had another five goals in the Mexican Clausura to help it to its first title in four years.
The U.S. international is not too familiar with El Salvador's CD Aguila - which Santos will face in its Champions League opener on August 21, but he is well acquainted with Toronto FC after beating the Major League Soccer side in the CCL semifinals in April.
"We know them pretty well. I'm sure they know us well as well," he said. "It's one of those things where it's not going to be an easy team. We're going to play them in Toronto and it's not going to be easy. We're looking to hopefully do the right thing and it pulls out the right way."
Under a new format this season, eight groups of three teams will compete - instead of four groups of four, and only the group winners will advance to the knockout stages, instead of two from each group.
"Regardless what it is, we're still going to give our best effort and try to win the group," Gomez said. "We pretty much have to now. We have to play well on the road and close out strong at home. The competition is going to be stronger. We definitely have to be on our toes and not take anybody lightly. We understand that."
After its opener at home against Aguila, Santos will travel a week later to Toronto. The Mexican club will play at Aguila on September 19 before concluding the group round against Toronto FC at home on October 24.
"This is a team that definitely takes the tournament seriously," Gomez said. "We're looking to keep on building and keep on strengthening the winning tradition that we established here. We know it doesn't matter who we play.
"If we want to be the best team in this region, we've got to pretty much beat anybody that comes our way. We're excited what they've put in front of us and hopefully, we continue to do the right things and prepare ourselves the right way and take things seriously."
Before starting its Champions League run, Santos will receive a unique opportunity as it will take on Spanish power Real Madrid in Las Vegas in an international friendly on August 5. Santos was a replacement for Juventus, due to a scheduling change in SuperCoppa Italiana.
Gomez admitted he was looking forward to that encounter against one of the world's great teams, even if it was an exhibition.
"Absolutely. How can you not?" he said. "You want to compete. It's playing against the best. I think Mexico fares very well against Spanish clubs. You saw when Chivas played Barcelona. They scored four on them. It's their [Real's] pre-season and the start of our season.
"It will be a mixed bag of players, but whoever is on the field you can rest assured they are going to come out and make it special."