No rookie reserve in Garcia

Blast: The young soccer player believes in both being seen and heard as he hustles for playing time.

December 20, 2003|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Blast rookie Carlos Garcia had never seen an indoor soccer game - let alone played in one - until September, when he came to his first team practice. But when the Blast fell five goals behind Milwaukee recently, there was Garcia, right in the thick of things, urging his team on, playing regular shifts and nearly scoring the game-winner with a header.

Often during games and practices, you can hear him as well as see him.

"Vamos! Vamos!" he shouts in Spanish. "Let's go! Let's go!"

Rookie? Well, yes, in fact, but not in demeanor.

During a practice last week, a penalty was called on his veteran teammate, Chile Farias. Garcia thought it was a bad call and didn't want his friend to be down about it.

"I said, `Come on, Chile, keep running,' " said Garcia. "He took it the wrong way and talked back to me. We got in a verbal fight - in Spanish. But I was just trying to be supportive."

Farias acknowledged his friend and teammate's talent and enthusiasm, but added there are some things he has to learn.

"There are sometimes when you need to talk and sometimes not talk," Farias said. "He has to learn when that is. Today, we had an argument, and we were on the same team. But it's good, too. It shows how competitive we are, and it makes both of us grow."

Along the sideline, Blast coach Tim Wittman laughed during the Garcia-Farias exchange. His rookie gets into it quite a lot with his teammates.

"All the time," said Wittman, whose team will next play Friday at home against the Philadelphia KiXX. "He sees something or they do and one says something and it starts. Young players get most of the abuse, but they have to learn to fight back. If they don't say something, they aren't going to earn any respect. Carlos fights back. I like it."

Garcia, a native of Colombia, can't help himself. He is fighting for playing time on a veteran team, something he is not used to.

Growing up in Cali, a city of 3 million, he was the leader of his club team at Tucuman Academy and later it was the same while playing on the reserve team for the American de Cali pro team.

Even during his U.S. college career at William and Mary, Garcia was the captain.

"I was the to-go guy, ah, the go-to guy," said Garcia, 22, who played lots of minutes even as a freshman and scored 121 points during his college career. Last spring, he led the team to the third round of the NCAA tournament.

"I've always been vocal," he said. "And it was easy at William and Mary as a freshman, because I played a lot. They depended on me and, in situations like that, you have to show confidence.

"Here, it is a little different. I'm not playing as much and I'm learning the indoor game. But I came here with the attitude, thinking I can yell at everybody. So, when I say something, sometimes, you know, a fight - an argument."

In Cali, Garcia had never heard of indoor soccer. It was always the outdoor game that fascinated him and captivated an entire nation. Ever since he can remember, he has wanted to be a professional soccer player.

"Many kids see it [soccer] as a way out of poverty," said Garcia. "We weren't poor. But my mother had to work really hard. My father owned a gas station until I was 12, when he died during a robbery. My mother, she's incredible. She's a bacteriologist. She kept me, my brother, Paulo, 20, and my sister, Stephany, who is 16, in the same [private] school.

"She believed if we all worked hard, something good would happen."

And it did. Garcia earned a full soccer scholarship to William and Mary and Paulo earned an academic scholarship to Randolph-Macon.

As Garcia neared graduation last spring, another good thing happened. He was drafted by the Blast. Garcia has a bachelor's degree in business administration, but the job market last summer wasn't good.

"When I finished school in May, I had no team and no job, but my coach at W&M, Al Albert, is from Baltimore and he told me about the Blast when I was drafted," Garcia said. "I'm a very open-minded person. I've been that way all my life. I moved from Cali, a town of 3 million, to Williamsburg, a town of about 15,000, without a problem. I enjoy seeing new things and meeting new people."

He said he is aware some outdoor soccer players are biased against the indoor game, but he is not one of them.

"Every ball is played with a chance to score," he said. "I think it is a very exciting game and very good for players who are very tricky with the ball. So, some people don't enjoy it, but I like it very much. Maybe in future, I'd like to take it to Colombia and start a league there."

In the meantime, he has goals here - to learn the game, to be the best player he can be, to earn more playing time, to enjoy the feeling that comes with victory. And "as I learn, I want to serve the Blast as best I can - whether it's as a reserve or regular-shift player."

Garcia made an impression the first time he entered a Blast game. He scored on his first touch of the ball on his first shift against Cleveland Nov. 14. Since then, he has played well when called on. He has the one goal and also an assist in three games.

"He just wants to play and will do anything to play," said Wittman, who has been using the young forward at midfield, filling in for the sick and injured. "His decision-making has been good and, defensively, he's not getting beat. ... I'm willing to give him the time to learn the game. It's up to him to take advantage of his opportunities."

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