U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team defender and Texas native Greg Garza is back on the home front as the team prepares for Wednesday’s match against Mexico’s U-23 National Team at FC Dallas Stadium. The left back is looking to make an impact in front of U-23 head coach Caleb Porter, with the hopes of attaining a roster spot at Olympic Qualifying in late March.
U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team defender Greg Garza is definitely in a comfortable place at the team’s training camp in Frisco, Texas, for a number of reasons.
The Grapevine, Texas, native is back on the home front. The Tijuana defender is familiar with Mexico’s brand of play, which will bode well when the U.S. U-23 MNT faces Mexico’s U-23 side on Wednesday. And within U.S. U-23 head coach Caleb Porter’s system, Garza has played a 4-3-3 formation at Sporting Lisbon.
“Being in a 4-3-3, at Sporting that’s their bible,” Garza said. “I lived by that. All of us at this level should know how to play in different formations. Our main objective is still to defend first, but Caleb loves for us to possess the ball and get forward as much as possible. Whatever he needs us to play, we have the talent for it.”
Garza is trying to make an immediate impression at left back for Porter and his staff as the U-23s look toward the group phase of the Olympic Qualifying tournament in late March at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn.
“Caleb has said that all spots are still up for grabs, so I’m working hard and we’re fighting for positions,” Garza said. “We want to beat Mexico and are focused on the Olympic Qualifying process. The Mexico game and our scrimmages against FC Dallas and San Antonio are good training for that.”
The two scrimmages and Mexico match in a 10-day stretch are good preparation for qualifying, which will include three group matches in a five-day span. Garza is more than familiar with the CONCACAF setup, having played for the U.S. U-17 and U-20 teams.
For Garza, there is some extra motivation heading into qualifying since his last foray at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship quarterfinals ended with a loss to Guatemala and a missed opportunity to compete in the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup. Garza and current U-23 teammates Joe Gyau, Perry Kitchen, Sebastian Lletget, Amobi Okugo and Zarek Valentin all started in that match.
“The U-20s was a big disappointment, and we cannot let that happen again,” Garza said. “Experiencing that should help us in a huge way.”
Porter is whittling the final pieces of a U-23 squad that will represent the U.S. during Olympic Qualifying, and Garza feels the team chemistry has been relatively strong. Some of that has to do with the familiarity playing together at younger levels. Garza has known former Dallas Texans teammate Jared Jeffrey for many years, defender Kofi Sarkodie since the U-15 level, and teamed up with multiple players at the U-20 level last year.
“We’ve known each other, and the group chemistry is definitely an important part to find your rhythm both on and off the field,” Garza said. “We’ve come from some different backgrounds and have scattered around. But to have played together before, it definitely helps.”
Garza joined Tijuana of the Mexican Primera Division in mid-December after spending a couple of years in Portugal at Sporting Lisbon.
“I had a chance right before the August window to stay a couple more years in Portugal,” Garza said. “But I wanted a new opportunity. It was definitely a process for me to get back. [U-23 teammate] Joe Corona actually gave my name to them and explained to them who I was. Tijuana has been a wonderful experience, and in the end I got what I wanted and followed my instincts. I’m glad to be back and settled in.”
While Mexico has not publicly announced its U-23 roster, Garza is eager for Wednesday’s matchup.
“It’s a different feeling playing in Mexico, where I’ve played a few times before,” Garza said. “Playing in their league and now against their national team with my home country, it will be a big rival game. I don’t know who they’ve picked, but we both want to win it. And I think we have the talent here, and the chemistry.”