BRIAN SCIARETTA - Thursday, December 22, 2011
With the Clausura tournament in the Mexican Primera set to get underway next month, American left back Greg Garza is excited for his first season with Club Tijuana.
Garza, 20, signed a two year contract with Tijuana after a successful trial with the recently promoted club.
The Texas-born defender had been without a club since May after he parted ways with Portuguese club Estoril. Since that time he has been on trials with clubs across Scandinavia but it wasn't until he arrived in Mexico where he found the right fit.
"The trial went well from day one," Garza told YA from Tijuana. "The preseason was tough for us and we're still in the middle of it right now. It's been a lot running. But the team has been great and they've made me feel really comfortable with everything. They took me in well. I think that's what helped me the most and allowed me to play my game."
Garza has been playing professionally in Portugal for many years. He developed primarily at Sporting Lisbon where he won two consecutive Portuguese U-19 titles with the powerful club. After his final title, he moved to second division club Estoril in the summer of 2010.
At the time, Graza's contract was with Brazilian-based sports management company Traffic Sports and the company also managed Estoril. His contract with Traffic Sports expired in May and Garza became a free agent.
Garza was born in Dallas but he also holds a Mexican passport through his father who was born in Mexico. When he arrived in Mexico for his trial earlier in December, he found the style of play to suit his game. Cub Tijuana plays a 5-3-2 formation and that is Garza's preferred formation to play his natural position of left wing back.
For Garza, it wasn't just the formation that fit him well. He also enjoyed the fast paced nature of the Mexican game and his background in Portugal helped him adapt.
"I'd say Europe is a little different style of play but I like how they play here," Garza explained. "Usually Europe is highest level but here they play a wonderful style of play. Here they play very quick and it helped me from being in Europe so long. I think that from doing so well from the beginning [of my trial] and showing them what' I'm all about. It helped me making the team."
Garza is still in the middle preseason and their first game of the Clausura isn't until January 6. Still his top priority is to earn first team minutes right away.
"That's something I'm working on," Garza said. "That's my goal. You have to see, that's the coaches decision. But I am working as hard as I can to show him I am ready for first team play."
When Garza signed with Tijuana earlier in the week, he became the third American to join the club. Since arriving, he has become good friends with fellow countrymen Edgar Castillo and Joe Corona. Despite the fierce rivalry Mexico and the United States share in soccer, the club has been welcoming to the three.
"It has been great," Garza stated. "The club and all the players have welcomed us with open arms. They have made us all feel part of the team from the very first minute."
While Club Tijuana has enjoyed success in recent years with their first promotion to the Mexican Primera, the past few years have been turbulent for the city as many of the border towns like Tijuana and Juarez have been hit with violence.
Garza is planning on living in Tijuana as opposed to living in the United States and commuting across the border to train and play.
"A city is a city," Garza said of Tijuana. "In every city there are places to go and places not to go. Within Lisbon, there are places where you don't want to walk down the alley. But here in Tijuana, I haven't seen any danger like that. It looks like a great city to be in. The club helps with that. I have no problems being here."
Also on Garza's mind is his immediate international future with the United States. Garza has been a frequent contributor to US youth national teams in the past. In 2007 he was on the US U-17 World Cup team and last year he was on the US U-20 team that did not qualify for the World Cup.
Garza was called up into the first US U-23 team camp in November and he hopes to be part of the team's plans moving forward. He also is confident that joining Tijuana and playing regularly will put him in a better position.
"For me I think it went great," Garza said of his first U-23 camp. "I hope to be called into another camp in the future. We'll just have to see. It was a wonderful experience and it's definitely a top goal of mine to make that Olympic team. For me, this is a perfect starting point - to be back in it and playing day in and day out. I've known a lot of the guys since I was 13-14 years old. To be back with those guys felt normal and I was comfortable."
Garza and Club Tijuana will open the Clausura season on January 6 when they visit Morelia.