MLSsoccer.com continues its look back at the stars, personalities and cult heroes who made Major League Soccer what it is today. Our second annual “What Ever Happened To..." series rolls on with former Chivas USA forward and onetime Mexican national team starlet Juan Pablo García.
Where They Were Then
When Juan Pablo García joined Chivas USA in August 2005, it was somewhat of a coup for the then expansion team: He was a 23-year-old up-and-comer with Olympic experience who had rejected Mexican giants Club América in order to jump on the Chivas USA bandwagon alongside fellow Mexicans Francisco “Paco” Palencia and Ramón Ramírez.
“El Loco” saw the MLS team as a springboard to further his career with El Tri and perhaps a bridge to a major European club. But the results were mixed. The forward’s eight goals and six assists in 29 starts over Chivas USA’s first two seasons weren’t too shabby, but García never quite fit in.
He often clashed with coaches and teammates, and made maddeningly inconsistent comments in the press about his career ambitions. Following the 2006 season, he returned to his homeland, signing with Tigres UANL – something he now regrets.
Where He Is Now
Now a teammate of DaMarcus Beasley at Puebla and under the tutelage of former Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls coach Juan Pablo Osorio, García has seen only substitute appearances in three games, a consistent trend in his post-MLS career. Since returning to Mexico, he has started just six Primera División games in five-plus years.
“I’ve not had the continuity,” explains García, now 30 years old. “With respect to all the coaches that I’ve worked with since Chivas USA, they see me as a sub, to put on for 15 or 20 minutes, but it’s difficult to demonstrate my game.”
Nevertheless, García, who admits there was interest from Dutch power PSV Eindhoven while he was at Chivas USA, remains positive about his role at Puebla and is hoping for more minutes.
“It’s going well,” he says. “I’m feeling good physically. Osorio has me in his plans and I’m very happy and grateful to him for this new opportunity. I hope to reach my level quickly.”
There is a tinge of regret in his voice, however. Most of the reason he opted to return to Mexico was a hope of establishing himself in the Mexican national team set-up, something that he thought would be more difficult playing in MLS.
“In the end, it wasn’t a good decision,” he laments, “because I didn’t go to Europe or the national team and I didn’t get regularly playing time in the teams I played for.”
García’s first cap with El Tri – a substitute appearance vs. Guatemala in the 2005 CONCACAF Gold Cup – remains his one and only for the senior team. Meanwhile, his move from Chivas USA to Tigres saw him start just five games before being shipped out on loan to Jaguares at the end of 2007. A year later, El Loco was back at Tigres after starting just one game and bagging two goals in less than 500 minutes of playing time at Jaguares.
Finally, in the summer of 2010, García moved to the Tiburones Rojos de Veracruz in the second-division Liga de Ascenso and clocked up some proper playing time for the first time since his MLS days.
Then, that winter, Puebla came in for the forward – but not until after he explored his options of moving back up north, something he says remains a major ambition of his.
“I’ve always wanted to return to the United States to play,” he admits. “I looked for an opportunity last year, but my agent said there wasn’t much interest in me. It made me a little dismayed.”
Clearly disappointed with how things have gone on the field since he left MLS, his time at Chivas USA remains a bit of a golden period.
“I remember the goals, living in California is great and the president, Antonio Cué, treated me really well,” explains García. “The fans were really good to me, too. I have lots of good memories; I’d love to relive them, but the opportunity to return to Chivas USA hasn’t come about.”
The former Atlas youth product reports he still keeps an eye on MLS, especially Chivas USA, and is keen to see its teams be successful.
“Hopefully a team from MLS can win the CONCACAF [Champions League] or do something important,” he says. “It’s for the good of CONCACAF that MLS grows.”
The straight-talking García believes he has two or three years left as a professional before he settles back into life in his hometown of Guadalajara, where he wants to invest money in starting up a gym and renting out houses.
Before that, he wants to earn a starting spot at Puebla and enjoy what is left of his career. As for a return to MLS, he doesn’t need much persuading.
“Personally, I think I did quite well,” García says. “I scored eight goals. I’d go back with pleasure.”
What They Said
“Talent is a starting point for a lot of players, but the mental approach both on and off the field wasn’t always the greatest for García in our case. Look at what Paco Palencia has done with his career, and he probably wasn’t even close to the technical ability, the pure, natural skills of Juan Pablo. Then you look at the career of Palencia: He was the utmost professional, a guy that I told Juan Pablo he should learn from.”
– Thomas Rongen, former Chivas USA head coach