American Exports: Greg Garza primed for starting role at Tijuana after Edgar Castillo's exit

Greg Garza on the run for Tijuana

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GUADALAJARA, Mexico – There are few players that seem to better fit Jurgen Klinsmann’s mantra of young American players pushing themselves to the absolute maximum at an early age and not being afraid to go out their comfort zone than Club Tijuana’s Greg Garza.

Garza’s youth career has been one long, tough ride, from US youth powerhouse Dallas Texans to São Paulo in Brazil, then to Sporting CP’s youth academy and on to Estoril in Portugal, and finally to Club Tijuana in December 2011.

Still only 22 years old, Garza has done the requisite leg work – 42 Liga MX appearances, one title, appearances in Copa Libertadores – and is ready to become a starter week in, week out in the Apertura 2014 (which starts Friday) for Xolos coach César Farías, who is counting on him after US international left back Edgar Castillo departed for Atlas.

“You’re not always certain, but I think the hard work in recent years has got me the opportunity to really secure that spot,” Garza told MLSsoccer.com in a phone interview recently. “They gave me a talk before the preseason. They said they have the faith and confidence in me to keep working how I’ve been working and take up the spot.”

It would only seem natural. Garza pushed Castillo hard over the last two seasons, combining a similar attacking thrust as his fellow American with solidity in defense. Indeed, had Castillo not been at Xolos over the last year, it is entirely plausible that Garza – a youth international since U-14 level – would’ve made a push for a spot on the US national team squad that played at the World Cup.

“Playing for your country is an honor and something that I definitely work toward, but I think the most important thing right now is just to get myself set with Xolos this season and see how things go from there,” stated Garza.

In the upcoming season, the upbeat Grapevine, Texas, native is set to tame his forward runs down the left flank, with the coach instructing him to use them sporadically to surprise opposition with well-timed advances.

It is part of Venezuelan Farías’ gradual re-shape of the team’s style and make-up, with Herculez Gomez, Castillo and Ecuadorian international Fidel Martínez all having left in the offseason and players like Juan Arango, Dayro Moreno, Alfredo Moreno and Israel Jiménez coming in.

There will be a different feel about Club Tijuana this season, acknowledges Garza.

“The team has changed quite a bit,” said Garza. “We might not have the biggest stars, but I think the chemistry within the group is something that has helped us grow and succeed as a team, as a club and as a group.”

Despite the influx of some experienced players like Moreno and Arango, Garza believes the younger crop of Americans at the club will get their chances, as he has since joining.

“[John] Requejo, [Alejandro] Guido, Amando [Moreno], Paul [Arriola] … all of us have the chance of getting minutes, and the [Copa MX] is coming up as well, so I think that will give a chance to guys coming up in the system,” he explained. “The great example is Paul. He got one opportunity, and look what he did with it.”

Garza – who speaks Portuguese and Spanish fluently, is married and a father – is one step ahead of the aforementioned Americans at Tijuana and much more experienced, despite being not much older. He does impart friendly advice but is not comfortable with a role-model tag, although his experience of biding his time to win a starting spot is surely an example to follow.

“I’d rather say good friend of theirs,” said Garza. “But I do talk with the younger guys about the stories, where to watch out and where to work at times.”

Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at tom.marshall.mex@gmail.com.