LAS VEGAS – Rafael Garcia has waited for five years for his shot at a regular spot in the LA Galaxy’s starting lineup, and in 2017, he finally has his chance, albeit in a position he didn't expect.
Garcia has started both of the Galaxy’s preseason matches at right back with incumbent starter Robbie Rogers suffering from an ankle injury. The position isn't new to the 28-year-old defensive midfielder who has made spot appearances at outside back over the last several years under both former Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena and new manager Curt Onalfo's Galaxy II squads.
With Rogers still on the mend, Garcia is doing what he can to make the transition work.
“It’s an easy transition and a position that I like,” Garcia told LA Galaxy Insider on Saturday. “I’ve always been a player that likes defending and it’s been a seamless transition. Curt likes me in that role, and we’ve talked about that being an option. I’m happy with the progress that I’m making and it seems to be off to a good start.”
The 28-year-old SoCal native put forth a solid showing last Saturday during the team's preseason defeat to the San Jose Earthquakes. Garcia shut down speedy Earthquakes attacker Shea Salinas while also making a vital clearance off the line in the first half.
Garcia says that the defensive aspect of the ball comes naturally to him, but admits that he still needs to improve in his ability to contribute to the attack.
“No matter where you play on the field, you want to improve going forward. It’s an adjustment period,” Garcia says. “It’s a different team, so it’ll take a few games to get used to it, but I think we’re off to a good start. We’ll make some improvements.”
According to Onalfo, given Garcia’s age and experience, the time is now for him to get regular minutes, and the Galaxy boss says that the transition is going “so far, so good.”
“He’s done really well. Defensively, he’s been very good, and now it’s a matter of how can we help him contribute a little bit more to the attack,” Onalfo said. “I’m pleased with how he’s progressing in that position. It’s been three weeks of him working at it daily, and you can see the fruits of it. He’s getting better each day.”
Given Rogers’ injury, Garcia has an opportunity to serve as the team’s starting right back when they open the regular season on March 4 against FC Dallas, a fact that is not lost on the 28-year-old.
“It’s an opportunity for me. It’s up to me to make the best of the chance. I’m confident in playing that position,” Garcia said. “I feel very comfortable, and at the end of the day, those are decisions that the coaching staff makes, but I’m certainly trying to make my case.”