The first time you talk to him, you might be tempted to think Greg Garza is being disingenuous.
“The season’s going great, couldn’t be better. I think that with how we’ve been doing, just the group, it’s going incredible,” is the first thing he tells you. “I don’t think we could ask for more, just to continue” the form in which Tijuana has started the season.
Then you took a look at the Liga MX standings. You notice Garza’s Xolos are right at the top, sitting just two points out of first place. They’re not supposed to be there, and it’s entirely possible they won’t be there when the season closes. For now, though, Tijuana is soaring in what was supposed to be a down tournament. Garza continues:
“We did lose a couple important guys, but we also got some guys that’ve been helping us along the way,” he said. “I think that’s very important. I think the most important things about the team is just the chemistry within the group. It couldn’t be better. I think we’re all good friends on and off the field, and that’s probably one of the most important aspects of why we’ve been doing so well and why we’ve gone so far.“
Garza is a Grapevine, Texas native who played for the famed Dallas Texans before moving to Portugal to play in Sporting’s youth system. After playing at the senior level with a smaller Portuguese team, Garza settled in to Tijuana last year along with fellow Mexican-Americans Edgar Castillo and Joe Corona. The bond between those players has helped eased the transition back to North American soccer for the 21-year-old left back.
“All the American guys, me, Joe, and Edgar, are always together. The relationship is awesome on and off the field,” he said.
Garza often comes into matches to spell Castillo, his countryman who is Tijuana’s regular starting left back, but the rebirth of the Copa MX has allowed Garza to see time on the field in a starting role. The Xolos, unlike many other Liga MX teams, played well in the group stage and made the quarterfinals. In their quarterfinal match with Correcaminos, Garza started and left the match after an hour with the score 4-1 in favor of Tijuana. With Garza out, however, the Xolos stalled and Correcaminos stormed back to tie the match at 5-5. It went to penalties, which Correcaminos won 7-6.
While the cup experience won’t be available for Garza any more, he remains confident that his strong games in that competition will transfer well to league matches. “I think the cup games were just as important as league games,” he said. “We wanted to win as much as possible. That didn’t happen, unfortunately, but I think that we did well getting to where we did.”
With league matches the only competition available, it might seem that Garza is being hampered by Castillo’s stronghold on the left back spot, but Garza says he’s enjoying learning from his friend, saying they have a wonderful relationship – and the American left backs might even combine for a few surprises.
“He’s a great guy, a good guy to look up to,” Garza said. “I think that (I don’t) necessarily want to pass him because we’re a team and that’s the most important thing is that we all have each other’s back. Even if he’s playing or if I’m playing I think we both understand that’s football and that’s how things work, but we’re also supporting each other as much as possible. We both have each other’s backs.”
While he’s happy learning at Castillo’s feet, Garza also understands the importance of getting playing time. “I think that just getting more experience as a player, getting as many games in as possible is definitely my goal. Everyone’s goal in football is to actually play, right? “ he said. And, of course, doing well when those opportunities do come, which Garza has largely been able to handle.
“I think when opportunities have come, I’ve definitely showed myself to the coaches and to the club,” he said, “and I think that’s the most important thing for myself for the club to see me as a guy that will always be there, not a guy that will give up even if I’m not playing.
“When I do get the chances to do my best and show them why I deserve a place in the future, and to help the team as much as possible.”