MONTCLAIR, N.J. — On Sunday afternoon during New York’s 3-1 win over Juventus, Irving Garcia was all over the field, making plays and running the Red Bulls’ midfield. The rookie’s dribbling at times was sublime and his passing had a surgeon’s precision.
Well, make that a dentist’s precision.
New York's fourth-round draft pick out of the University of California-Irvine, Garcia grew up in a small town on the Arizona-Mexico border. He played much of his club ball across the border in Mexico. Then he went to community college for two years, as he was not heavily recruited to play college soccer out of high school. There he partnered with Roger Espinoza, who is currently with the Kansas City Wizards.
Two years of playing and dominating at that level—including winning a national championship—sent Garcia to UCI on a full ride. More success followed as the team won the conference tournament and title in his first season on campus, advancing to their first ever NCAA tournament. He then went to the MLS Combine after being named the conference’s player of the year.
He didn’t quite know what to expect. He didn’t feel a ton of pressure and played carefree.
“I [quickly] figured out that this was about business,” Garcia told MLSsoccer.com. “Then I started to take the games more seriously.”
A few days later, Garcia was taken in the fourth round of the draft after playing some “very good soccer.” He said he was surprised the Red Bulls selected him, as he figured a team more familiar with him on the West Coast might nab him. No matter the shock, he is thrilled to be playing close to New York City and for a team that he now loves.
But Garcia’s real passion, as it turns out, has more bite than a Dema Kovalenko slide tackle.
Growing up in Arizona, he admired greatly the play of former Mexican national team and Dallas striker Hugo Sánchez. Perhaps the best player to ever come from the country, Sánchez was also a practicing dentist who loved enamel as much as embarrassing defenders.
“I got interested in [dentistry] when I began to follow the career of Hugo Sánchez,” Garcia said. “But it is just something that I like and now I am passionate about.”
Plans of medical school are on hold now for Garcia, who hopes to become the third member of his family to graduate from college when he completes his degree in two years. On Sunday, against Juventus, Garcia was in awe that the first start of his professional career was against an international juggernaut.
“When I was in the tunnel before the game, lined up to walk onto the field, I was standing next to Diego,” Garcia said. “I couldn’t believe it; I was there next to Diego.”
Garcia then went out on the field and played with poise and precision, including unleashing a 50th minute blast from 25 yards out that caromed off the post and set-up Jeremy Hall for the game’s first goal. The Red Bulls are hoping for more of the same from the rookie.
“I think this is the first game that I’m seeing him more confident,” head coach Hans Backe told MLSsoccer.com.