Herculez Gomez was probably the only passenger relishing the long flight to Russia this week for today's U.S. men's friendly in Krasnodar.
It gave the 30-year-old Santos Laguna striker time to catch up on the long queue of documentaries on his iPad. ("Gonzo," the 2008 Hunter S. Thompson documentary, is up next.)
Gomez calls himself a documentary geek. “I love them because you can learn things from them, and more often than not they're also really good stories,” he says.
Not that Gomez's tastes were always highbrow.
“I used to be on a big reality-TV kick,” he says. “'Blind Date,' 'The Fifth Wheel' -- all of them were guilty pleasures. You see people behaving so badly, it makes you feel better about yourself.”
Thankfully, those days are behind him. And after being interviewed for the 2012 documentary "Gringos at the Gate," he's wondering whether filmmaking is in his future.
When "Gringos" was shooting last year, he chatted up the crew about the production process and studied them at work.
“I'm sure making a documentary is difficult to do, but it all starts with an idea,” he says. “If I could use one of the stories I've lived from playing this sport, it could be very entertaining. Athletes have the best stories.”
If Gomez does turn filmmaker, he'll be sure to have been inspired by the following documentaries, which he counts as his favorites:
• "Senna" (2010)
The film covers the life and racing career of the Brazilian F1 racing legend Ayrton Senna, who died on the track at age 34 in 1994.
“Sometimes you'll see a documentary where the filmmaker doesn't interview the enemies or rivals of the main subject, but this one had everything,” says Gomez. “Senna worked hard and took risks to win, and I can identify with that. Immediately after I saw this movie, I started asking people who liked F1 about him.”
• "Cocaine Cowboys" (2006)
The glossy 2006 film chronicles the explosion of the drug trade in Miami in the 1970s and 1980s, highlighting the ruthlessness of the Colombian cocaine barons who ruled the city.
“It's a pretty dark film,” says Gomez. “They go into Pablo Escobar and the madam who was running things down there. They were cutthroat, but it's a fascinating film because they also created a multimillion-dollar drug network in just about a month.”
• "Hoop Dreams" (1994)
The Oscar-nominated doc tells the story of two young African-American basketball players in Chicago who enrolled at St. Joseph's, the mostly white Catholic high school where legendary NBA guard Isiah Thomas put himself on the map.
“One of the kids, William Gates, says basketball became a job for him in high school,” recalls Gomez. “I see that so much in this business. Kids play so much so early in their lives, they just stop enjoying it.”
• "Grizzly Man" (2005)
The centerpiece of the film, about self-proclaimed bear expert Timothy Treadwell, is the footage he shot during his time in Alaska. Gomez says he knew of Treadwell's gruesome end before he saw the film.
“When you watch it in its entirety, you realize it's sad because the guy was isolated from the world,” says Gomez. “You wonder what causes someone to feel closer to bears than humans.”
• "Gringos at the Gate" (2012)
Released in June, Gringos shines a light on the intense soccer rivalry between Mexico and the United States. Writer and director Michael Whalen interviewed the American-born Gomez, whose parents are from Mexico.
“Obviously, there are a lot of things in this film I relate to,” he says. “Just the way certain family members or friends respond to me knowing I play for the U.S. creates a funny tension at home. I would support Mexico as long I wasn't playing them, so it's always strange for me when we play them.”
• "Rise and Shine" (2007)
Gomez says he just recently saw this documentary about U.S. teammate Jay DeMerit's path from the Sunday recreational leagues in England to the Premiership.
“Jay is an awesome guy and his story should be told to encourage people,” says Gomez of the current Vancouver Whitecaps defender. “He literally took advantage of every opportunity he was given. It was cool seeing footage of him from high school. He was a goal scorer back then, which I never would have guessed.”
• "The Marinovich Project" (2011)
The ESPN 30 for 30 documentary examines former NFL player Marv Marinovich's attempt to mold his son, Todd, into a star quarterback. Father and son finally bonded when football was no longer the focal point of their lives, which made Gomez consider his relationship with his old man.
“My dad has always pushed me in soccer, and we had a great relationship when I was growing up,” he says. “But our relationship is better now because we don't talk soccer much. We find common ground in more things, like me living in Mexico now.”
• "The Two Escobars" (2010)
The ESPN 30 for 30 documentary profiles drug lord Pablo Escobar and Colombian soccer star Andres Escobar, whose own-goal in the 1994 World Cup eliminated his team and ultimately cost him his life when he was gunned down in Colombia soon afterward.
“Soccer players in Mexico get paid a ton of money, and I'm smack in the middle of one of the biggest turf wars in Mexico as far as drug traffickers go,” says Gomez. “I haven't experienced anything like what happens in this film, but it does hit close to home.”