MNT Jan 6, 2011
During the next two weeks, ussoccer.com - with the help of all the fans on twitter - will be asking questions of the newest fraternity of seven players making their first appearance in a full national team camp. The first contestant is Los Angeles Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza. An NCAA Champion at the University of Maryland along with current Galaxy teammate Omar Gonzalez, A.J. is recently married and is pumped to be making a temporary change of locker rooms at The Home Depot Center...
ussoccer.com: What was it like sitting in your first meeting with the national team?
A.J.: "I was just looking around the room and seeing the whole group and thinking what a great opportunity that we have here. I've never met Bob before. Hearing him talk for the first time was kind of intimidating."
ussoccer.com: You grew up in Maryland as a fan of D.C. United, and even played for their U-12 team for a tournament in Paris. What was it like as a young kid having that team to watch?
A.J.: "It was fantastic, especially since those were the "dynasty" days for United. I used to go to a lot of games, and it was amazing to watch a guy like Marco Etcheverry in person. I looked up to players like Eddie Pope and Tony Sanneh, and then in 2009 I got to play with Tony. I remember thinking it was crazy that here's a guy who has played in a World Cup, been successful overseas, and now we're on the same field. He really helped me along, and as a rookie that was invaluable."
ussoccer.com: Were you surprised by the call up?
A.J.: "I didn't expect it to come this early in my career. I haven't been a full-time starter for the last two years with the Galaxy. We have so many good players in the back, there is a lot of competition. There are a lot of very good players here, and I have played against many of them, so I'm looking forward to the challenge. There are a lot of young guys here, so we are in the same boat. This level of competition can only make you better as a player."
ussoccer.com: Always a fun question for first-timers - How did you find out you had been called in?
A.J.: "I was on my way back from my honeymoon in St. Lucia. Waiting in the airport, I decided to see if there was free WiFi and there was, so I checked my email and saw the message from U.S. Soccer. I couldn't call anyone until we landed in Miami, and then I told my parents."
ussoccer.com: Speaking of, you have a very interesting lineage...
A.J.: "My dad is Mexican and Guamanian, and my mom is Native American. My dad was in the Coast Guard, and they met in Maryland through a mutual friend."
From smmith014 on Twitter: Did it help to have Omar [Gonzalez] and Sean [Franklin] with you during the camp?
A.J.: "For sure. I asked Omar what it was like, and he told me when he came the first time he was intimidated. Both guys have been in so they have some experience. They were able to tell me what to expect and what training would be like. That helped me have a comfort level as we got started."
ussoccer.com: In fact, Sean is your roommate here. And he tells us you are paranoid about being on time.
A.J.: "I’d rather be an hour early than two minutes late. When I was younger I played for the Baltimore Bays, and practice used to be 90 minutes away from me. I’d leave for hours ahead. Being late is a pet peeve, and of course Sean is always the last one. I’m trying to break him out of that habit."
ussoccer.com: As you mentioned, there a lot of young guys here, and the tendency is for guys to want to impress straight out of the gate. Even though Bob tells the group that one day isn't going to make or break you, did you get the sense there was a lot of nervousness and excitement when camp started?
A.J.: "For sure you can see it in the first couple days of training. I was talking to someone today about the 6 v. 6 game, and everyone is running 100 miles an hour. Even though you know you should slow down and be patient, it takes a while to settle down. You can't go that fast for 18 days. Maybe people will slow down once they get tired!"
ussoccer.com: What else have you noticed about the environment?
A.J.: "First that there is quality in every position here. You also see that the coaches are really trying to help the players out. During training, they are pulling people aside and offering insight on things you can do better."
ussoccer.com: You told us about watching the U.S. team as a kid, and now you are here with the full team. What's it like pulling on the training gear and seeing the U.S. crest?
A.J.: "It's surreal. It's crazy even getting to put on a training top. It's not that you don't feel like you belong; you just recognize that you have an opportunity that most people will never get."
From TheSoccerWire on Twitter: Adoring U of Maryland female students apparently want to know when he's bringing back the ponytail.
A.J.: "Probably never! Being out in LA and the heat makes it rough. And it takes too long to grow.”
From galacticla on Twitter: Does it make it special that you might get your first cap at the Home Depot Center?
A.J.: "Oh yeah. It’s a great feeling to be in front of your home fans, and have all those people there who support you week in and week out would be tremendous."