BRISTOL, Conn. - The phones started ringing at 2 a.m., and players were told to come down to the third floor for a meeting. As Herculez Gomez pressed the elevator button on 17, his mind raced.
Were his dreams about to be fulfilled - or crushed?
This is the way the U.S. World Cup team was finalized, in the dead of night in a Hartford hotel.
"It's been such a crazy and unbelievable journey," Gomez said.
And the big trip hasn't even begun.
For Gomez, it was good news. He and Edson Buddle went from longshots to the American roster yesterday, joining veterans Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Tim Howard on the 23-man U.S. team headed to South Africa.
While there was joy and relief for the chosen, there was only heartache and anguish for the seven players called downstairs a few minutes earlier, the players leaving the group selected May 11 for the preliminary roster, only to be cut 4 days before departure.
Donovan consoled Brian Ching when his roommate found out he wasn't going. Ching was on the 2006 World Cup roster but never got into a match. Having turned 32 on Monday, this was his last chance.
"It's hard to imagine your lifelong dream not coming true, someone telling you that it's not going to happen," Donovan said.
Players on the bubble were nervous before and after Tuesday night's 4-2 loss to the Czech Republic, the first of three exhibitions ahead of the U.S. team's World Cup opener against England on June 12. Before the game, the squad scheduled a nationally televised announcement for yesterday afternoon at the ESPN campus.
After the final whistle, coach Bob Bradley still wasn't ready to tell players, wanting to first review the DVD with his coaching staff.
"Bob told us to give him some time and he'd give us a call," Gomez said. "It was one of the most nerve-racking couple hours of my life."
This morning, Gomez will be with the team at the White House to receive personal congratulations from President Obama and former President Clinton ahead of Saturday's send-off game against Turkey at Lincoln Financial Field at 2 p.m.
A 28-year-old from Las Vegas, Gomez scored 10 goals for Puebla to tie for the Mexican scoring lead, becoming the first American to top a foreign league. The 29-year-old Buddle leads Major League Soccer with nine goals for the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Beasley also had a remarkable turnaround and will be going to his third World Cup. He teamed with Donovan to spark the Americans to a quarterfinal appearance in 2002, their best finish since reaching the semifinals at the first World Cup in 1930. Then he was part of the disappointing team eliminated in the first round 4 years ago.
He was exiled from the national team after poor play at the Confederations Cup last June, but returned for the March exhibition at the Netherlands.