ExtraTime Radio Podcast
CHICAGO – Soccer has led Greg Garza across three continents and many nations since he left his native Texas to pursue a professional career at age 12.
But after six months with Atlanta United, he and his young family are ready to slow down “this gypsy life that we have” and make Georgia their long-term home.
“I think I picked the right place to go,” said the All-Star left back, who is currently on loan with the MLS expansion team from Mexican side Club Tijuana. “I know I have another two years [under contract] in Tijuana, but hopefully Atlanta can make the move permanent here pretty soon. That’s what we’re hoping for, myself and my family.”
Speaking to MLSsoccer.com in the run-up to Wednesday’s All-Star clash with Real Madrid, Garza revealed that he’s been blown away by the size and devotion of Atlanta’s supporters, who have made ATL UTD one of the league’s best-attended teams – and helped vote him into the MLS All-Star Fan XI in his first season stateside.
“Everything fell into place perfectly,” said Garza. “The way Tata [Atlanta coach Gerardo Martino] plays, I think I fit into his scheme pretty well from the very beginning. … I’m very fortunate to get this call-up to the All-Star Game. I think that shows it’s been a pretty good season for me so far. But it’s a long season, it’s a huge roller coaster, so we have to keep the head on straight and keep working.
“I just have Atlanta to thank, for having 45-50,000 people every game and supporting us.”
The Five Stripes concluded their temporary stay at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium with last weekend’s 1-1 draw vs. Orlando City, and will play their first match at glittering Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 10. Garza isn’t concerned about the midseason venue change, as long as the home fans keep flocking.
“We’re going on to [an artificial] turf field, so that’s probably the only change we have to think about,” he said. “As long as these people can go to Mercedes-Benz and do the exact same thing they’ve been doing at Bobby Dodd, I think it shouldn’t be a problem at all.
“Bobby Dodd was an incredible atmosphere, so many fans. It was awesome. I didn’t know that many people in Georgia liked soccer, to be honest! But you talk to so many people – people recognize you on the streets, even, and they tell you they waited years for this. So it feels good to be noticed and in such a cool city like Atlanta.”
Garza and his wife Tauanna, whom he met during his stint in Portugal from 2008-11, had to navigate a challenging adjustment process when they moved from Tijuana to Atlanta earlier this year. But they and their four-year-old son Francesco – and his newborn brother Anthony, who arrived earlier this summer – have made Atlanta their home, and the whole family has accompanied Greg to Chicago for the All-Star festivities.
“It’s definitely a showcase for all of us,” Garza said of the All-Stars’ showdown with Real Madrid on Wednesday. “You’re playing against some of your idols, and even with some of your idols. You’ve got [Bastian] Schweinsteiger and Kaka and those guys on your side now. Those are guys that I dreamed of playing with or against one day when I was 12, 13 years old, and now I get to play alongside them against a team like Real Madrid – something that you dream of as a little kid.”
Garza hopes to play a part in the effort to stand toe-to-toe with the defending European champions, who will pose a fierce challenge to an All-Star squad that has just two training sessions to prepare.
“People probably see this as a show to watch from the outside. But us on the inside, we know we definitely have to compete,” he said.
“We have to showcase what this league is all about … This league is growing tremendously, I think it can be even stronger than it is right now. Coming from Mexico and having played abroad, I feel like this league is in a good moment right now. So hopefully we can continue to keep growing, and hopefully I can stay here a few more years as well.”