CARSON, Calif. – Rafael Garcia has solidified his role with the LA Galaxy during his second year with the club as a physical, battling midfield substitute. But in Wednesday’s scoreless draw with the Portland Timbers, the 24-year-old received a much grander opportunity—making his first career MLS start filling in for the suspended Marcelo Sarvas.
In 89 minutes of work, Garcia was his industrious self while partnered alongside Juninho. Perched in front of LA’s back four, the second-year midfielder was tasked with breaking up attacks which allowed his Brazilian counterpart to push forward into the attack. As part of that role, Garcia was called upon to help stifle Portland’s dynamic attacking dup of Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri, giving them little time on the ball with which to create.
“The start went well. I thought that I played alright; I’m just a bit sad that we didn’t get the three points,” Garcia told LAGalaxy.com. “That was the main focus—shutting [Valeri] down. Obviously, he’s a dangerous player and Nagbe as well. I think that Juninho and myself did a pretty good job of shutting them down. There wasn’t much both ways, but I think that we deserved three points.”
There weren’t any nerves for the young midfielder, who admitted that there were just some normal game day jitters before the opening whistle. The appearance was quite the contrast to his longest regular season appearance prior to his start on Wednesday, an 80 minute shift filling in for an injured Juninho in LA’s 1-0 defeat to the New York Red Bulls on May 19.
“It was a lot different. Mentally, you know that you’re able to come in and prepare properly,” said Garcia, who learned that he’d start alongside Juninho earlier in the week. “Sometimes you just have to grind it out like in the New York game, but it was good to get out there and get my feet wet. I was happy to get the start.”
Although Garcia has become known for his physical play, the midfielder was particularly tidy with his distribution as he completed 31 of 36 passes for an 86% pass completion rate on the night. But as always, his greatest success was in tracking back and breaking up attacks as he notched five recoveries in the scoreless draw.
However, Garcia had his moments in the attack. In closing stages of the match, Garcia launched a pinpoint long-ball to forward Robbie Keane in the 18-yard-box. However, before the Irishman could fire the chance on frame, it was cleared away by the Timbers defense.
“I thought that Rafa did well,” said forward Landon Donovan. “He was a late addition to the lineup and he came into New York away, which was a tough game to get thrown into the fire. I thought that he was solid tonight. He played a little bit safe, but that’s what we wanted him to do. It’s a performance that he can build on for sure.”
As Donovan states, Garcia will have plenty to build on from his solid shift against Portland. While Sarvas is expected to return to the fold for Sunday’s SuperClasico against Chivas USA, Garcia knows that he’ll be called upon extensively as the team enters the hectic summer schedule.
“The start built confidence. It’s always good to get a start and it’s my first start with the Galaxy so it was special, but it was a little bittersweet to not get the victory,” said Garcia. “It’s always good to start a game and it just shows that the coaches have confidence in me to get the job done.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com