Back in U.S. Men’s National Team camp for the first time in 18 months and having penned a loan deal with M.L.S. expansion side Atlanta United FC, 2017 is all about new beginnings for left back Greg Garza.
The Grapevine, Texas product was last a part of MNT camp in Sept. 2015, but continued problems with his hips kept him from playing a part in friendlies against Peru and Brazil. It was during that camp where the defender, along with the MNT’s coaching and medical staff, made the decision for him to address the ongoing problem.
“It was at a point where every training session I was going through a lot of pain,” he told ussoccer.com. “I just wasn’t moving right anymore and just little things off the field – I was having difficulty playing with my little kid – just doing father-like things that my hips and hernia weren’t allowing me to do anymore.”
Diagnosed with hip impingement, Garza underwent surgery to have golf ball-size bone spurs removed from both hips. Doctors then did a procedure to reconstruct the bone on both sides and also removed a number of hernias from his groin area and abdomen.
“It was excruciating pain for a while,” Garza said. “I was glad to get the surgery over with.”
While the procedure was done, the road to recovery had only begun.
“I knew from the beginning it was a 10 to 12-month process to actually play again. I was in a wheel chair for a couple months, on crutches for a couple months and then had to learn to walk again in a pool – just doing basic exercises to get me to walk again and start striding out.
“It was a big game of patience, not just for myself but for my family, with my wife bathing me every day and my kid not understanding that dad couldn’t play with him for a while.”
Recovered for the start of the Liga MX Apertura last July, Garza made a couple of appearances for Club Tijuana before a concussion suffered on July 24 at Puebla forced him back out of the lineup. When he returned, the 25-year-old found it hard to get back into a Xolos side that finished top of the table, but he said he’s still very thankful for the club’s support throughout his rehabilitation.
“I do have Xolos to thank to actually get me back fit 120 percent of what I wanted to be,” he said. “The past six months were also difficult, not getting that opportunity after coming off a pretty big surgery. There were no complaints - the team was just doing really well and I never really had the opportunity to come in and make the impact to what I was used to. It’s understandable, and it’s been a great journey in Mexico. Now I’m ready to take on the next step and come back here to M.L.S. and strive here as well.”
Just before Christmas, Garza was acquired by incoming expansion side Atlanta United FC on a one-year loan. While the team will be coached by former Argentina manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino, Garza said he was most encouraged by the conversation he had with Atlanta Technical Director and long-time U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra, who like himself often lined up at left back for the MNT.
“Knowing there were M.L.S. teams very interested was delightful for myself knowing that I’d come off such a long injury and getting back fit again. Carlos made it clear when we did speak over the phone that he wanted their left back to be the National Team left back, and I really hope I can live up to his word over the next couple years and hopefully give them the option to buy this next year.
- READ MORE: Graham Zusi Embracing Right Back Switch
“Once you do come off a long time off the field, you really have to gain that confidence and I really think they’ve shown me how they want to play. Carlos put me on the board, and you couldn’t really ask for a better opportunity than working under Tata Martino.”
First things first though. Garza’s call-up to January Camp means he still hasn’t set foot in Atlanta. With head coach Bruce Arena saying he wanted to see more in terms of depth at both full back spots, Garza’s sole focus is towards picking up where he left off with the National Team in 2015.
“I’m motivated. It was very surprising for me to get the call after being out so long and not really getting so much playing time these past five months in Tijuana. I’m very grateful and thankful that they’ve called me back in. It just gives me that extra motivation and confidence to boost myself back up there. Left back was a position I had straddled down a bit two years back, and hopefully I can do that once again. The opportunity is there and it’s up to me to make the most of it.”