SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Pity the life of an MLS rookie.
Sam Garza, the No. 6 selection in this year’s MLS SuperDraft, came off the bench Sunday for the San Jose Earthquakes against Chivas USA. In just his second MLS match, the speedy winger from UC Santa Barbara delivered a near-post cross that Alan Gordon converted into a game-tying goal in the 88th minute, salvaging a point for the Quakes.
And yet, after the game, there was Garza, still in just a towel standing in the locker room, on the receiving end of an impassioned lesson from head coach Frank Yallop when the young rookie should have been celebrating.
WATCH: Garza sets up Gordon’s equalizer
While reporters were not within earshot, the body language didn’t indicate it was a conversation filled with puppy dogs and rainbows.
“Obviously, it’s a learning experience,” Garza told MLSsoccer.com. “I’m young, I’ve got to learn every day from the coaches and just take what they say. I don’t know everything. I’m just a rookie.”
Speaking to reporters in the wake of the Quakes’ 1-1 tie with Chivas USA, Yallop praised the work Garza did, but also pointed out the rookie’s shortcomings in his 30 minutes along the left wing, which is not his usual side of the field.
“We put him on to get at them wide, and I think he did a nice job of that,” Yallop said. “Again, I just want to see more of it. It’s just getting himself over the nerves, maybe, of playing ...
“I know it wasn’t a natural position for him, but I kept saying: Go at them and get crosses in. That’s what we put you on for. We don’t need to keep the ball anymore. We’re winning. Get on there, get some crosses in and get some chances for us. In the end, he did that.”
With Marvin Chávez and Shea Salinas both sidelined by injury and likely out until the Quakes come back June 20 from a nearly four-week layoff, the door would seem to be open for someone with Garza’s speed to increase their playing time. Instead, Yallop has chosen to stick with Simon Dawkins on the left wing and Baca on the right, leaving Garza on the outside looking in.
Garza ranks 14th among this year’s first-round picks in terms of playing time, recording 38 minutes in two appearances. Looking at the top 14 selections, only injured striker Darren Mattocks, taken No. 2 by Vancouver, has fewer minutes to this point.
“Coming from college, playing every minute of every game, to coming in and struggling for minutes, it’s been tough,” Garza said. “Obviously, I’ve learned from it, but I think mentally, it’s been a challenge.”
Garza is a regular on San Jose’s reserve squad, but he knows the way into more appearances and ultimately Yallop’s regular lineup, is by showing him why in each training session.
“I’m playing with some of the best players in the league, a lot of veterans, and I’m listening to those guys as well,” Garza said. “I’m all ears. I’m trying to learn as much as I can and grow as a player.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.