January 19, 2001
By John Philip Wyllie
While the millions of Hispanic
children living in America often learn to play soccer almost as
quickly as they learn to walk, very few have ever found their
way on to the national soccer team. Nick Garcia, the Kansas City
Wizards stellar right back, hopes to reverse that trend. Still
only 21, Garcia plays with a veterans savvy, reads the game extremely
well and has experienced nothing but success wherever he has played.
Prior to making his MLS debut last year, Garcia was a two-time All-American at the University of Indiana and a major contributor to the Hoosiers' successive collegiate national championship teams. As the second player selected in the 2000 MLS SuperDraft last February, Garcia was expected to help turn what was the league's laughing stock franchise into a winner.
In November, the Wizards completed an astonishing worst-to-first turnaround when they hoisted the MLS Cup. The key to their success was the league's most impenetrable defense which improved dramatically thanks to Garcia's tenacious defending. Despite being the runner-up for MLS Rookie-of the Year honors, Garcia is quick to deflect the frequent praise he receives.
"The sound foundation that I received at the University of Indiana really helped to make my transition into the MLS a lot easier," said Garcia following a scrimmage at the Chula Vista Arco Olympic Center. "I had great companionship with my teammates there and received great coaching from coach (Jerry) Yeagley and his staff."
For most players just out of college, adjusting to the increased pace and skillfulness found in the pro ranks is a frustrating experience, but Garcia immediately won a starting berth and within a short time was playing like a seasoned pro. "Having guys (on the Wizards) like Peter Vermes and Tony Meola to help guide me along has really helped. I'm only 21 and I don't know everything, so whenever they have something to say, I'm willing to listen."
Garcia's play with the Wizards caught the attention of U.S. National Team head coach, Bruce Arena and led to his selection for the upcoming game against China on January 27 in Oakland (ESPN2 2:30 p.m.). With a need to revitalize his defense, Arena may look to Garcia who despite his age, may be exactly the type of player the U.S. needs.
As one of the first Mexican-Americans to make an impact at the national level, Garcia believes that U.S. Soccer's widening search for untapped talent will pay huge dividends. The key to developing into a top-notch soccer player lies in seeking strong competition and getting a good education according to Garcia. Having had parents who stressed the importance of academics as much as athletics provided Garcia the necessary opportunity. "My education helped me to get a scholarship at Indiana, otherwise I could never have afforded it." And the University of Indiana turned out to be his pathway to stardom.