There are untold numbers of people who had parenthood thrust upon them at an early age and were then in turn forced to give up on their dreams. But when Galaxy midfielder Rafael Garcia became a father at age 19, he was determined not to let this happen to him.
In 2008, Garcia was a sophomore at Cal State Northridge and widely considered one of the Matadors top young talents. A tenacious midfielder since his days at Canoga Park High school—where he helped the Hunters to a city championship in 2006—Garcia’s life changed forever in the fall of 2008.
Already felled by a season ending ACL injury suffered in his first game of the season, just days after his surgery Garcia learned that his girlfriend Lilia was pregnant with a baby boy. Although this news would be enough to shake any teenager—let alone one that had aspirations of a professional soccer career— Garcia discovered a renewed sense of direction in the news.
“It was pretty scary, but after I had time to settle down, I really looked at it as a blessing and then from then on, I knew that everything wouldn’t be easy, but I knew that I could overcome it,” said Garcia. “I told myself, you know what, now you’re going to be out in the real world, you have a son and your own family and I told myself that I had to do everything that I could to be able to provide for him.”
Unlike many who deal with the early burdens of parenthood, Garcia was not left alone as he had the support of Lilia as well as his family including his father, Rafael, mother, Elviria, and three sisters to raise his son, Isaiah, who was born on July 28, 2009. Perhaps Garcia was prepared best for this new challenge by his father, who himself was an ex-soccer player that was scouted by Mexican club Pumas UNAM during his younger days.
At an early age, Garcia’s father offered his son three words to base his life around. “God, family and work,” the elder Garcia told his young son, were the most important things in his life. Dedicated to moving his new family forward, Garcia upheld his father’s mantra as he returned to full fitness, ultimately becoming a captain of the Matadors and earning all-Big West honors during his junior and senior years.
His play at CSUN was recognized by MLS, who invited Garcia to the 2012 MLS Combine where he caught the eye of Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena, who picked him with the final pick of the second round of the Supplemental Draft. After a rigorous preseason, Garcia earned a contract with the Galaxy, but he admits that without his family, his dream may have ended much earlier.
“At the beginning it was still very tough and we were very young and they would help with the baby sitting and I think that more than anything, my parents supported me and told me that if I ever needed anything that they were there,” said Garcia. “But being the person that I am, I don’t like to rely on them too much. It’s always nice to know that they’re there if worse comes to worst, but they’ve been great and their parents as well.”’
The commitment to hard work has stuck with Garcia during his brief time with the Galaxy. Despite having made only a handful of appearances, Garcia has shined in limited action and showcased a willingness to play in a variety positions including his natural role as a defensive midfield or even as an outside back.
Perhaps, his finest performance came during last month’s CONCACAF Champions League match against the Puerto Rico Islanders when Garcia served as one of LA’s leaders in midfield for the Galaxy’s youthful lineup--featuring nine player under the age of 23—as they demolished Puerto Rico 4-0. Garcia wasn’t able to get on the score sheet, but his energetic play was vital for LA in extinguishing Islanders attacks and creating chances of their own, earning Garcia considerable praise from LA’s coaching staff for his mature play.
“He’s certainly got a unique background and I admire him actually,” admitted Galaxy Associate head coach Dave Sarachan. “The quality that he brings every day is a seriousness of trying to make it in this business. Maybe unlike others, he’s got a lot of responsibilities for a young man.”
Over his first full season with the Galaxy things have slowly changed for the rookie midfielder. Slowly but surely, he has played himself into contention for a spot on the Galaxy’s game day roster and even made his regular season debut as a second half substitute in the 3-2 win at Real Salt Lake on June 20. Garcia admits that his now three-year-old son is “getting used” to him being away and he and Lilia have developed a system to ensure that the pair get to spend as much time as possible with their son while both balancing work obligations.
His career beginning to take off, when Garcia steps on the field, Isaiah isn’t far behind. Each time the midfielder steps onto the field, he pays tribute to his son by kissing a tattoo on his wrist with the words “God is my salvation” the Hebrew translation of the name Isaiah.
Although few have Garcia’s skill to play soccer at the highest level, the 23-year-old hopes that his example of pressing forward with his dreams in light of adversity is a model for others.
“It’s very easy to give up and very easy to throw in the towel and say that ‘I have this obstacle in my way’, but there’s no reason that I can’t get through it,” said Garcia. “I’d be lying to you if I said that it never crossed my mind, but to me it was just a matter of trying to make my dream come true. I like to think that I earned my position here. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything, it should all be motivation.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@gmail.com